Yes, Athletes Can Study Abroad!

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Jill Kruidenier
February 7, 2014

If you’re in college, chances are you know a student athlete (or are one yourself!); but how many do you know who have studied abroad? We’re going to guess the percentage is relatively low.

Of course, there are many schools with athletic teams that are quite supportive of study abroad, and will go to great lengths to dispel the myth that it’s impossible. Here at IES Abroad, we want you to hear it from us, too: Athletes can study abroad.

To prove it, we’ve interviewed two IES Abroad Ambassadors who recently returned from their semesters abroad. Athlete or not, you’ll enjoy reading their inspiring tales.

From Defensive Back to Study Abroad Student
First, meet Bryce Biberstein, a senior majoring in Biology at Wabash College with plans to attend medical school. He played defensive back on the Little Giants’ football team, which had an impressive 9-1 season this past fall.

Bryce studied in Granada, Spain with IES Abroad during the spring of 2013. He recalls, “The opportunity came up from a Spanish professor, and it was something I was really interested in. I talked to my coaches [to see] if it was possible. We’ve had guys that have studied abroad in the past, so they were really supportive. They just wanted me to find a gym so I could continue staying in shape.”

The Key to Finding a Gym Abroad
Once abroad, finding a gym was no problem. The key? “Ask the locals,” Bryce says, “The professors and staff gave me some [gyms] to check out. I found one that had everything I needed. I really enjoyed it there.”

With some room for flexibility, Bryce managed to stay active all semester by following the weekly workout plans his coach sent by email. “In the end, it was up to me. I put that responsibility on my shoulders.”

More Than Staying Fit – Getting to Know the Culture
Although clearly a dedicated athlete, his semester abroad was not just about staying fit. Bryce admits that the best part was the culture. “I grew up in Indiana, so I didn’t really get outside the Midwest much. I’d never been exposed to a huge diversity of people from different backgrounds. The history, the city as a whole, and the culture [of Granada] is just amazing.”

As for words of advice for other student athletes, Bryce says, “Don’t discount it and think it’s impossible to study abroad just because you’re an athlete. At first you’re like, ‘There’s no way.’ It’s intimidating to think you’ll be away and then all of a sudden come back, and—don’t get me wrong—that transition is a little bit difficult.  At the same time, the things that you gain from studying abroad [are] great.”

Why an All-Conference Goalie Picked Barcelona
Next, meet Sabrina Grandke-Bawab, a senior double majoring in Business Management and Creative Writing at the University of Redlands. She just finished her last season as a goalkeeper for the Bulldogs’ women’s soccer team, and was recently honored with an All-Conference recognition by the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).

Sabrina studied in Barcelona, Spain with IES Abroad during the spring of 2013, an experience she sums up in two words: “culturally enriching.” She had traveled to Barcelona for a soccer tournament when she was younger, which made her decision to return to the Mediterranean city for her semester abroad an easy one.

Asking Permission or Forgiveness?
When asked how she broached the subject of study abroad to her coaches, Sabrina explained, “I played two sports, soccer and track and field, but I took soccer more seriously, so I decided to take a semester off from track and field to go in the spring. My track coach was a little reluctant, but I was going to go regardless.” 

Sabrina had the support of her soccer teammates, past and present, who had studied abroad as well: “It’s really popular; at least four or five people go abroad in the spring, since we’re a fall sport.”

Bonding with Futbol Fanatics
One of the many benefits of studying in a city that worships her sport is that there are a lot of people you can bond with, Sabrina says. She advises, “Try to be involved in the community, even if you’re not playing or training. Following local sports teams is really fun and gives you that feeling of the athletic environment so you don’t lose touch.”

Unfortunately, Sabrina broke her ankle just a week before her arrival in Spain, which meant crutches and rehabilitation all semester instead of playing futbol. Upon returning to Redlands, she explains, “It felt really familiar. I went back to training every day.”

Moral of the Story
Bryce and Sabrina are just two of many athletes who have studied on IES Abroad programs. Countless others have easily joined sports clubs or teams associated with the local university in their host city. We even offer curricula specifically focused on sports, like the Rio de Janeiro Summer Sports & Society Program.

Being an athlete and studying abroad do not have to be paradoxical. Start the planning process early, and don’t be afraid to talk to your coach and academic and study abroad advisors. Consult fellow teammates who have also studied abroad, and remember that the benefits make it all worthwhile!

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Jill Kruidenier

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