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Same Strokes for Different Folks

I have been swimming for nine years now and I am about to start my final season with the University of Utah, but I didn’t want to take a hiatus while I was abroad. Along with my three-month stay as an on-site ambassador in Florence, I decided to continue my competitive swimming journey by training with a team in Italy. I also thought training with a team would be a great way to immerse myself in the local culture and meet Florentines.

The actual process to join a competitive sports team in Italy was far more complex than I could have imagined. While most US sports teams simply make you sign a waiver saying that you are in good health and won’t hold the team liable for any injuries incurred, Italy actually makes you certify your fitness with a sports medicine doctor. It took me about a month to get all my appointments lined up and to have my doctor sign the coveted slip of paper that would allow me to start training. The whole procedure tested my language skills a great deal—while most places in Florence have become very tourist-friendly, that small doctor’s office outside of the city center was not one of them.

 The pool where I spend my afternoons.

Neither is the swim team. The pool we train at is about two miles away from the city center, far away from where most tourists venture. Very few of my teammates are competent in speaking English, and only one of the coaches can speak it. All of the workouts are given in very rapid Italian, and I have struggled to learn a lot of the technical terms that come with the sport. Acclimating to this has really been a “sink or swim” experience for me.

Despite all of the difficulties in communication, the fundamental aspects of the sport remain the same. All across the world, we swim the same four strokes, the same distances, and the times will never change. We might call it different things, but in the end, we are all swimmers. I’ve learned that sport is a beautiful way to bridge gaps between cultures, and it really has given me insight into why events like the Olympic Games are so important for the world.

In terms of my personal athletic development, swimming in Italy has been an eye-opening experience. On my home team, I’m generally on the faster end of the roster, but within just a few practices here I realized that I’ve been a big fish in a little pond. Suddenly I’m the slowest one in the water, struggling to keep up with the intervals and getting dusted by my teammates, a few of which are competing in world championships this summer. In a lot of ways I feel like a beginner again, but I’m relishing in the challenge of training with athletes far more talented than I am. I know that I’ll be returning to the US with more swimming experience and a few more friends on the other side of the world. If you’re considering sports abroad, I would definitely suggest going for it, just be ready for a couple extra steps and challenges. It will be worth it in the end.

Ethan B. is a CEA alumnus from the Spring 2016 semester in Florence, Italy and from University of Utah. He is currently the CEA On-Site Ambassador in Florence, Italy.

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