athlete abroadMany student athletes assume that studying abroad means you have to skip a training season. I’m here to tell you that’s not true! Sure, you are in a completely different country without your teammates or your usual practice space, but there are still many opportunities to train for your sport.

In February 2017, I found myself on a 12 ½-hour flight (with plenty of foot room, mind you) on the way to spend the semester in Dunedin, New Zealand. I was part of the cross country and track teams at my home school, so even though I was thrilled to study abroad, I had to make sure it was feasible with my schedule. To do that, I asked myself these questions that any athlete should ask before studying abroad:

  1. During which part of the year is your sport’s training the least rigorous?
  2. Does your study abroad location feature gyms, sports fields, or outdoor trails?
  3. Can you join intramural and/or club sports?

I personally had the most difficulty determining which semester to study abroad. With cross country and track, we don’t have an off-season; as soon as cross country ends, track starts. I could have chosen a summer program, but I wanted the full experience of immersing myself in a beautiful country for nearly five months— a few weeks abroad wasn’t going to cut it for me. To help me make my decision, I spoke with my coach. Although my coach was not gung-ho about me missing a semester of training, he had been to New Zealand before so he knew I’d have ample opportunities to go on runs and ultimately, he was supportive of my decision to study abroad.

Deciding where to study was much easier for me. New Zealand has a ton of trails and open spaces (and a superb, FREE university gym). I took full advantage of them. And, I didn’t have to run alone! My kiwi host, for some unknown reason, enjoyed half marathons—I like running but not that much—and my other flatmates enjoyed more average runs and workouts. Whoever was available often teamed up for a trail run by the harbor or beach, or headed to the gym together. Honestly, the scenery was so pretty that I worked out more than I thought I would. New Zealand certainly has ample spaces for training, but other countries might not have as many resources—so be sure to do some research and contact BCA for help! The BCA Program Advisor can help you find a program that offers the training facilities that you need.

I had the most fun learning about different club and intramural sports opportunities while in New Zealand. I didn’t compete in many intramural sports because I’m a runner for a reason (that reason being I’m not great at contact sports), but I did attempt to play Ultimate Frisbee. My next-door flatmate from Malaysia was really into this sport, so I joined him for a few of the practices. My hand-eye coordination isn’t my strength, but it was still fun!

athlete abroad

For others, though, intramurals worked well. A few soccer teammates from California traveled to Dunedin together and joined the intramural team to stay in the game while abroad. It’s all a matter of finding what works best for you and your sport. While they practiced on the field, I could be found on the trails by the water.

More traditional intramural sports are not the only way to stay in shape. When the opportunity presented itself to join a one-month kickboxing class with a group from my quad, I jumped at the chance. It’s great for core strength and I always wanted to try punching bags! Plus, our group received a discount because one of the girls trained with the instructor in the past. May I say, I excelled? Just kidding—but, my bloody knuckles really made me look authentic!

Returning back to campus and to my sport from my semester in New Zealand was easy because I came back at the beginning of the summer. Cross country training is mild during that time, so I was more or less on the same page as my teammates, despite not practicing with them for a semester. But of course, I took a kickboxing class and they didn’t. You tell me who’s winning!

Trust me, you don’t have to choose between sports and study abroad. Like me, you can find many opportunities to train while you’re away. If you really don’t want to miss fall or spring training, study abroad in the summer! You can still earn credits, won’t have to miss any games or training during the school year, and can live in a different country for a few weeks. Either way, you can do it!

About the Author – Liz Driver, BCA Intern, Spring 2017 Dunedin, New Zealand & Elizabethtown College Student

Liz is pursuing a Communications degree at Elizabethtown College and is part of the school’s public relations club called Jay Firm. After graduating in 2019, she plans to be in the PR field and involved with social media.

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