With rigorous practice, training, competition and team schedules, it might seem hard to find any room for academics and a social life, let alone studying abroad in another country. But believe it or not, there are ways to spend a semester abroad without impacting the opportunity you have been given to participate in a sport. Some institutions operate on a similar schedule as the U.S., so it might be as simple as planning your study abroad for the off-season or during a red-shirt year. Plus, your university can help you gain access to fitness centers or sport teams which will allow you to continue off-season training.
As a member of the women’s wrestling team at McKendree University, and one of many student-athletes in the abroad program, I was given the opportunity to study this past spring 2018 semester in Gold Coast, Australia. It was undoubtedly the best experience of my life, and I highly encourage student-athletes to consider the opportunities provided at McKendree University (and at campuses across the United States) to study abroad.
My Experience As A Student Athlete
While I studied abroad at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, I was very focused on maintaining my training for when I return back to my home country and home university. Since I was a collegiate wrestler at McKendree University, I decided to look for other collegiate wrestlers to train with and stay in shape with. Although Griffith University didn’t have a women’s wrestling team, my coach referred me to some wrestlers in Australia who referred me to other wrestlers in the area of my host University.
Fortunately for me, the Commonwealth Games (an international multi-sport event for members of the Commonwealth) were held on the Gold Coast in April 2018, but the athletes arrived much prior to that and stayed much longer for training. While abroad in Gold Coast, I met and trained with many of the female wrestlers on Australia’s commonwealth team who were in town for training. We met twice a week for a 2 to 3 hour drilling session, and other days I went lifting at a gym, provided by the residence I stayed at. To stay in shape and maintain my cardio, I would go running on the beach every day.
With my experience in mind, I would like to share some tips for maintaining your fitness as a student athlete abroad.
1. Prior To Going Abroad, Meet & Talk With Your Coach
- Assure your coach that you will train just as hard abroad as you would at home. Hopefully, they will understand & encourage you take advantage of this opportunity.
- Discuss benefits of studying abroad and explain to you coach why you want to go abroad and how it will benefit you.
- Assure them that this won’t affect your training and you will do everything you can to stay in shape.
- Ask them to send you the off season lift or a plan of the training/workouts coach recommends. While abroad, be sure to you keep in contact with your coach & teammates so you can stay up-to-date on everything happening back home as well as updating them on how things are going abroad.
2. Make A Training Plan & Stick With It
You’ll have lots options for continuing your training while abroad, many of which will be free or very affordable:
- Join a sports team or club at host university (more on that below)
Get gym membership
- Get free weights for use
- Body Weight workouts/Workout videos
- Use environment – Go on run/Hike
The quantity/quality of training depends on the sport, but it is always important to maintain cardio, build muscle, get stronger & stay in shape while abroad. Get acquainted with your surroundings and enjoy what your host country has to offer while still staying active. Most study abroad locations have plenty of hiking trails or national parks to visit, beaches to run on, or towns to explore.
3. Find A Sports Team, Club or Gym at Your Host University
You will likely have many sport teams or clubs available to join at your host university or within the local community. The University I attended even had a club sign up table day with all their sport teams and clubs out for people to sign up.
Some universities may even have on-campus gyms/workout classes (such as dance/yoga classes or boot camps) for students at a reduced price. Free classes may be offered occasionally for you to take advantage of.
Joining a club or sports team abroad is a perfect opportunity to immerse in the host culture and meet many locals or students from other countries. What better way to meet people from your host culture and make some friends while staying in shape? Not many people can say they were part of a team and played a sport they love while they were in another country. Keep in mind you could even play or try a new club sport for fun.
4. Keep Nutrition In Mind
As a Wrestler, my sport revolves around my weight, so I had to stick to a very strict and healthy diet. Fortunately for me, Australia is a very health-orientated country: healthier foods, healthier norms, and more food regulations and laws. An important part of Studying abroad outside of the academics, is experiencing different aspects of a new culture, such as local foods. Here’s my advice for maintain good nutrition abroad:
- Maintain healthy eating habits, just as you do on your home campus
- If you have specialized diet, be sure to plan and research food available for you in host country before you arrive
- Know what you’re consuming
- Don’t be afraid to explore new, local foods while abroad — you may end up finding something new you that like
- Know how to limit less healthy foods
Final tip: enjoy your time abroad!
Zamantha Mulder is a Pre-Med Health and Wellness/Biopsychology major at McKendree University and she studied abroad with IFSA at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia in Spring 2018.