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How to Study Abroad as a Student Athlete

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How to Study Abroad as a Student Athlete: 7 Tips from a College Volleyball Player Who Stayed in Shape Down Under

student athleteI’ve always heard just how difficult it seems to be to study abroad as an athlete in college. Keeping up with workouts, missing off-season training and losing precious time with your coach have been major concerns I have personally felt. However, upon taking the exciting risk to study abroad, I learned just how beneficial it can be to expand your horizons. These are some pieces of advice I learned from my time balancing studying, traveling and leading a healthy lifestyle in Gold Coast, Australia. 

1. Yes, You Can Study Abroad

This experience is truly once in a lifetime. Once you graduate, it becomes much harder to leave your normal life for six months and live somewhere entirely different. Take advantage of this time and present a strong case to your coach or athletic director as to why you feel you will grow as a person. My volleyball coach had studied abroad while she was in college and she was supportive of me doing the same. My time abroad yielded an immense opportunity for personal development – I became more confident and more myself while abroad. I became so much more independent with my finances, my food choices and my decisions about how best to spend my time. I felt empowered to create a lifestyle where I could be my best self. 

2. Plan Ahead

student athletePack workout clothes! I bought new running shoes before I left and brought as many athletic clothes as I thought I would need. I was used to working out inside or in colder temperatures and I knew it would a big difference working out in Australian heat, so I packed accordingly. Pack clothes you already wear and love to workout in. It’ll feel familiar when everything else is so different around you. 

3. Find a Buddy

student athleteDon’t be afraid, you WILL make friends! It’s kind of like the first two weeks of college all over again and nobody has any friends right away. Seek out others who share the same values of fitness and health. I ran a half marathon in Melbourne with three other girls from the U.S. Two of us were student athletes back home and were able to connect on that. It was such an amazing experience to share that goal achievement with others who share similar passions. We still check in and support each other from across the country. 

4. Consider Your Budget

student athleteYou may find that exercise clubs in your host country require an entrance fee or a monthly fee to join. I joined a club that was roughly $30 AUD per month. I knew going into my time abroad that I wanted to join a gym to keep up with workouts so I just built it into my budget right away. Keep in mind: there may be student pricing available at some gyms and, depending on where you choose to study, you might find workout facilities right on your host campus!

5. Seek out Club/University Teams Early

student athleteI played on a social beach volleyball team that met every Thursday and Sunday. The sign up dates were right away and I nearly missed the deadline as there was so much going on during orientation. Some of my friends wanted to join but missed the deadline and so regretted it. Plan ahead so you can look out for the club or team you want to join and then get involved! It’s a great way to meet friends 

6. Adjust Your Expectations and Take Advantage of Your Surroundings

student athleteMany other cultures may not celebrate your sport to the same extent you do! My host university didn’t offer women’s ice hockey or cross country skiing for obvious reasons. They also didn’t have indoor women’s volleyball, which was what I was used to. Joining a coed beach team stretched my horizons and allowed me to meet all new people I would have never had the opportunity to otherwise. It also better prepared me for going back on the court when I got home! I learned new techniques totally different to what my team was used to and it really helped me grow as a player. 

7. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

student athleteIf they don’t have your sport, get creative and stretch your boundaries a little bit. There’s no better time in your life to find a new hobby or sport than when you’re abroad. It’s a platform for reinvention or just simply expansion of your comfort zone. Take a chance and join a fun new team; you’ll meet cool new people and come home with a new athletic skill to share with your friends! You can share your passions and avoid the dreaded “abroad bod.” Everybody wins! 

Taking it Home

student athleteNow that I have settled back into my life at my home university, I fully realize the value of studying abroad. I am now more confident and comfortable in ambiguous situations and I feel more willing to meet new people and seek out adventurous opportunities outside of my comfort zone. This experience gave me a broader perspective of how influential athletics can be on my education and leadership development, and I feel more appreciative of our facilities, coaching staff, and teammates back home in Minnesota too. I am more intentional to connect deeply with my teammates and utilize my newly learned Australian volleyball techniques to improve my game and push those around me. As I have returned, my coach and several of my teammates have noted just how much more confident I seem since studying abroad. I feel more grateful, appreciative and intentional after this experience and would highly encourage others to seek similar experiences that push them out of their comfort zone to reap invaluable lessons and wisdom. Kristie Tunheim is a Psychological Sciences Major and Political Science/Scandinavian Studies Minor at Gustavus Adolphus College. She studied abroad in Australia through the IFSA Griffith University Program in the Spring of 2018.