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Why Every Athlete Should Study Abroad

December 05, 2019

By: Maggie O'Donnell '20

People often talk about the benefits of studying abroad in regards to being a student: “studying abroad will differentiate you, empower you, broaden your understanding of the world.” But what about the benefits of studying abroad for an athlete? As a collegiate soccer player, I decided to travel during the off season to spend four and a half months studying in northern Italy. While my decision may have had a negative impact on my physical condition, I was able to walk away reaping an exponentially positive mental condition. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “90 percent of the game is half mental.”

As an athlete, you’re taught at a young age the importance of teamwork, collaboration, and perseverance. Being a collegiate athlete, you quickly learn how important time management, accountability, and prioritization is. But what you won’t learn in practice, is the concept of self-reliance and vulnerability. During my time abroad, there were more times I had to depend on what little information I had, with what little language I knew. I find myself coming back to this concept frequently being back from abroad. I have gained a great amount of confidence in myself which can be seen on the field. Although I may not possess every skill possible to be the absolute best player present on the field, I have gained a new confidence for the skills I do have – in which I execute very well. My time abroad taught me to how to rely on what skills I am good at, how to harness those skills, and how to use them effectively to be successful.

In parallel, being abroad will teach you how to be vulnerable. You have to talk to strangers in order to figure out where you’re going, you have to take a chance at catching the right train, and you have to be willing to try new things. Translating to athletics, I find myself seeking to learn and try, new moves, skills, even positions on the field! This sense of vulnerability leaves you seeking to accomplish things you never would have imagined trying.

Obviously, it was easy for me to find soccer while being in Europe. Yet regardless of your sport, there are some amazing observations you can make of athletics in general through a foreigner's perspective. The biggest difference in American athletics is the prestige facilities, venues, equipment, training rooms, gyms, fields, complexes, etc. I can only speak for Western Europe, however I am sure the same concept applies elsewhere that we, as American athletes, are so beyond lucky to have access to such amazing accommodations. Going to a small DIII school is not comparable to a large public institution. However, I saw professional facilities overseas that are not as nice as the local YMCA here in the U.S.

Since being abroad, I have come to appreciate all we have here at home – from our coaches, trainers, and fields. The most profound observation, was seeing the pure passion people have for sports. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best athlete, or the worst. People love to play, to be active, and to be a part of a team. Often times, we Americans have this desire to constantly win, and if we don’t win, there should be no enjoyment in playing. However, the passion I saw abroad taught me the importance of simply having fun – taking the seriousness out of the game to remember why I play.

The experiences I endured, situations I overcame, and people I encountered impacted me in a way no professor, coach, classroom, or practice could ever measure. Although I am grateful for the places I’ve been, art I’ve seen, and buildings I’ve walked through, I am more grateful for the experiences I’ve taken away from my adventure. I thought I would go overseas to learn about the world, but I quickly realized the world taught me more about myself.