Staying (Sort of) Active While Abroad

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Caroline Hallmark
November 20, 2022
Staying (Sort of) Active While Abroad

“Cincuenta de crol con aletas, ¡venga!"

Panicked, I looked to the single other IES Abroad student with me—only to find that her face, unfortunately, mirrored my own. It was our first practice at the University of Granada Swim Club (CDU), and we were beginning to realize that brushing up on Spanish swim vocabulary would have perhaps been useful prior to joining the team.

Fortunately, a pair of chattering 15-year-old girls noted our distress.

“Fins!” they giggled before sending off in front of us.

As a swimmer at Bowdoin, finding a swim team in Granada was a major to-do for my semester. Although I knew I wanted a break from college athletics while abroad, I also knew that continuing an activity I already did in the United States would help me acclimatize to the new environment and make sure that my return to the pool at home would be (a little) less painful.

Surprisingly, finding and joining a team in Granada was relatively simple. The university swim coach, Pedro, was easy to reach and accommodating to our situation: after explaining that we were here only for the fall semester, he offered us spots to swim with the team up to six times per week until our return to the US.

The first week of practices was difficult but rewarding: re-learning the sport in another language reminded me of why I love swimming in the first place. Despite our obvious American-ness, both Annie (another IES Abroad student and swimmer at Colorado College) and I were able to connect with the team via the universal language of swimming. Still though, the language barrier—as well as the different cultural norms—remain difficult to overcome. More importantly, the multitude of other things to do while studying abroad make the daily two-hour practices (at the inconvenient time of 7:30-9:30 p.m.) more of a chore than anything else.

Although a part of me is determined to stay at tip-top shape, the reality is that such high standards are far too inflexible for study abroad, failing to account for the many unexpected events that inevitably arise during the semester. The ambitious 4-5 practices a week I once aimed for, for instance, have diminished to 1-2 due to illness, other extracurricular opportunities, and travel plans.

Though one might see this as a “failure,” I’ve instead come to see it as a chance to explore other ways to stay active. Outside of the pool, I’ve been able to join a local climbing gym, Rock n’ Bloc, as well as explore the many hiking trails behind the Alhambra. Though neither were a part of my “original” plan to stay active, I’ve enjoyed the creativity I’ve had to use to get physical activity into my day.

All in all, my experience trying to stay active this semester has shown that placing rigid expectations on oneself during study abroad only sets one up to be disappointed. Although it’s useful to approach new experiences with certain goals, one should not expect all of them to be met. Instead, it has been allowing these goals to shift with the circumstances that has led to the most fruitful experiences of my study abroad—and a lot of fun new vocabulary.

To leave off, here are some of my favorite terms I’ve picked up while abroad:

  • Los pies de gato: climbing shoes (literally, cat feet)
  • El gorro: [swim] cap
  • El crol: freestyle
  • El senderismo: hiking
  • El cazo: jug (slang for a strong hold while climbing)
  • La calle: swim lane
  • Los subaquaticos: underwater kicks
  • “¡Venga!”: come on!

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Caroline Hallmark

Hola! My name is Caroline (she/her), and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College studying History and Economics with a minor in Mathematics. Beyond the classroom, I’m a Wordle enthusiast and love spending time outside (though I am a notoriously slow walker). Another fact about me--I love the em-dash. Looking forward to sharing a sliver of my life here in Granada!

2022 Fall
Home University:
Bowdoin College
Chevy Chase, MD
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