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The Study Abroad Essentials: A Passport, A Frisbee and A Pair of Boxing Gloves

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Me, Myself and My Free Time

One of the reasons that I chose IFSA’s program in Buenos Aires, as silly as it sounds, is because I knew that I could play ultimate frisbee there! I’ve been playing ultimate frisbee since I got to college, and did not want to compromise on that while studying abroad.   
The structure of classes in Argentina is different from what I was used to at home. Because most people have to commute 30-60min to class, it makes more sense to offer them once a week for only three hours instead of three times a week for an hour. With only one long class a day, my friends and I all figured out different ways to spend our free time. Some friends walked to classes instead of sweating out during rush hour commutes on the subway.Others explored the city parks and spent lots of time outside. I found myself two ultimate frisbee teams and a boxing gym to dedicate my time to, and I have no regrets.

Gym Hopping is the New Bar Hopping

Before going abroad, a fellow student athlete told me to explore my athletic options before committing to anything. I learned that most gyms offer a trial class for free and I utilized those.
My second week abroad, I went to try out a Jiu Jitsu class down the block from my apartment. I had no idea what was going on, and ended up watching advanced students grapple and fight for an hour! It was so out of my comfort zone but it was also so much fun! While I realized that Jiu Jitsu was not for me I was not discouraged and changed tactics to search for a boxing gym.
I went to a few gyms and team practices before figuring out what fit with my schedule, level of commitment and price range. I happened upon the PFC Familia boxing gym after trying out boxing gyms in my neighborhood. I scoured online for a deal on Groupon, and ended up spending 3-4 nights a week at the boxing gym. So, if you find yourself craving some weight machines or Zumba classes abroad, Groupon will be your new best friend. Consult those magical internet pages of discounts and use them to your advantage!
Although hypocritical seeing as I joined a boxing gym myself, I recommend first running, walking or biking (BA has free city bikes) outside for exercise before joining anything! Even though I lived about a 20min walk from the nearest park, I ran fairly often, especially on Sunday mornings when many Argentine residents, known as Porteños, were still sleeping. This is a phenomenal way to see the city and become a part of it.

Are You Sure You’re Sure that Practice is Still On?

Within my first week of touching down in Buenos Aires, I found myself maneuvering through the streets of the city in search of an elusive bus to my first ultimate frisbee practice. I discovered the local team through an old teammate and a Facebook group for people who play ultimate frisbee casually in the city. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the fields an hour later, my contact told me the practice had been cancelled due to rain. This was the first of many cancellations, complications and frustrations that I encountered throughout my season of navigating through different teams and leagues.
However, as I became more comfortable finding my way around the city and using my Spanish, I learned how to make sure that I was on the same page as my Argentinian teammates. I realized that it is not unreasonable to confirm and then reconfirm the logistics of a practice (the where, the when and the how to get there) before going. I WhatsApped the owner of the boxing gym when any holiday arose to see if the gym was closed, and a teammate when I saw rain in the forecast before practice. Argentinians, bless them, will reply to a Whatsapp message at literally any hour of the day or night, the point being: just make sure to ask!

How to turn Teammates into Real Mates

One day, after having consistently boxed at the gym for over a month, I was commuting to class when I bumped into my sparring partner on the street. As the only girl in my 9pm boxing class filled with large, 30-year-old men, I was initially paired with the most uncoordinated, gentle-punching guy. We both struggled through the boxing combinations, me because I didn’t know the terms in Spanish, and him because he had just started training! I was always relieved when we were paired together, and it was such a nice surprise to run into him during daylight hours. In typical Argentinian fashion, I kissed him on the cheek only to step back and see the confusion in his eyes. To my dismay, he had no idea who I was! Once I took off my glasses and mentioned “boxeo” he immediately placed me in his memory, but I was horrified. I realized that even though you might consider your teammates as friends, they might still not know who you are outside of practice! I say this not to discourage you from joining teams or gyms abroad, but instead, to encourage you to do that and more! It is not enough to simply join a gym or show up to practice in order to make friends; you have to go the extra mile. So, invite your teammates to lunch after practice, or a beer after your workout, or to watch a game during the weekend. Invite them into your life, and they will welcome you into theirs.
Throughout my semester, I realized that athletic bonds are made through synchronized push-ups, sweaty sprints and coordinated punches. However, deeper bonds are made outside of the gym and off of the field! It was when I put myself out into the scary world of interaction – put my boxing gloves down and put my Spanish to the test – that I got the most out of my athletic involvement abroad. It was during two-hour train rides to the ultimate frisbee fields and walks home from the gym with my fellow boxing partners when I was really able to connect with people through sports. Even though I held different passports from my teammates, we shared the same love of sports.
Hannah Katz is an Anthropology and Spanish student at Emory University and studied abroad with IFSA on the Argentine Universities Program in Buenos AiresArgentina in Fall 2018.