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Studying Abroad as a College Athlete

September 25, 2019
by CEA MOJO
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Studying Abroad vs. Sports:

How I Managed to Leave My Team for a Semester

As a typical college student, I am involved in many things on my campus at Illinois State University. Sometimes it’s stressful and other times my clubs are the hours in my week I look forward to most as a break from regular classes. My main time commitment includes being an active member and leader on my college’s Women’s Rugby club. With multiple days a week dedicated to practices and games, a lot of my time and energy is aimed at improving my team and myself for rugby (including even more time geared toward working out and eating healthier). When I first idealized the thought of studying abroad, my first concern was rugby. How was I going to leave my team for an entire semester? Will there be opportunities for me to practice abroad? How much of my season will I miss? [FOMO is real y’all.] With all of these considerations, I genuinely doubted my ability to study abroad mainly because of my commitment to rugby. So much of my time is spent on the field that I didn’t even know what I would do off of it. However, I’m here to say that I ended up studying abroad in Prague, missed an entire season of rugby, and still had the best time of my life.

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My roommates and me at Prague Castle during AAU’s annual ball. From left to right: Kiera, me, Emma, Emily, and Iva.

The entire semester leading up to my trip abroad, I was trying to figure out when the best time to break the news to my team would be. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to say goodbye, even though I knew it was only temporary. I thought I was being dramatic, seeing as I was just one person and my absence would in no way make or break my team. However, I think it was difficult not because my team would miss me terribly but I would miss them. They would be able to make do without me, but could I do it without them? I started with my captains and executive board around midway through the semester. Right away, they were so encouraging and supportive. They assured me that this would be an experience of a lifetime and much more beneficial to me than another semester of rugby. Once the news started spreading to the rest of my team, I was getting so many texts and calls telling me they were so jealous and excited for me and knew that I would have the best time ever. Their support was so instrumental in reinforcing how much I wanted to go abroad. After months of stressing of what I would miss, my team’s encouragement reminded me that while I would miss some things, the experiences I would gain would absolutely surpass anything else I could be doing.

Once abroad, I didn’t even have time to think about rugby for the first couple of days. There were so many activities to attend held by CEA to help us adjust, as well as trying to explore the new city of Prague. Once classes started, that was an adjustment as well. Three-hour classes meeting once a week instead of 50-minute classes three times a week was definitely a change. With all of these new adventures to have, I found myself not even thinking about home in general for the first couple of weeks. However, when the homesickness did kick in, it hit with a vengeance. Not only did I miss Illinois State and my rugby team, but I also started to miss my family and friends and all of the things I couldn’t find in Prague (really good sushi was definitely one of those things).

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Exploring the Charles Bridge with my roommates and other friends from the program in an apartment below us. Top row: Dan, John, Adam, and Ian. Bottom row: Emily, Iva, me, and Emma.

But as the weeks went by, I found that I could channel that energy into something much more productive and that it would really help my overall experience in Prague to be an incredible one. The first thing that helped me get over my homesickness was bonding with my roommates. We were all placed together randomly and we were all from different states and colleges. Once we started spending time together, we instantly clicked! It became much easier to have plans for the weekend and traveling, and they also gave me things to do right away so I was never lonely during the week. We would hang out all the time and discover Prague together. They filled that void of my teammates that I was so close with and thought I wouldn’t be able to do without. My roommates were my new teammates and they were the ones who made my study abroad so incredible. I also started taking advantage of the activities and events CEA hosted as well as my new university in Prague, Anglo-American University. CEA Prague has a great fitness program called i-Move, where they host a yoga class, a rock-climbing class, and a personal fitness class once a week to give the students an opportunity to stay active during the semester without the struggles of trying to find a gym. Going to these classes not only helped me stay fit like I normally do at home, but they also gave me something to do when I was struggling. My host university held an incredible amount of activities as well, including an annual ball at Prague Castle. Attending that with my roommates was a real Cinderella moment -- let me tell you. And finally, making sure I took time for myself to relax and soak it all in was important too. I found myself writing down my experiences in a journal and video-calling my family. Being able to see my dog always helped a lot, too.

Studying abroad was simultaneously the scariest thing I’ve ever done and also the most epic, rewarding, life-changing thing. I had a lot of doubts if I’d be able to be away from school and my sport for that long, but it was definitely worth it. While I wasn’t playing rugby for an entire semester, I was growing as a person and supplementing that newfound free time with healthy alternatives that allowed me to have the time of my life. And, don’t worry: my team welcomed me back with open arms as if I had never left.

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Video calling my sister and dad.

 


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