Six Keys to Studying Abroad as a Student - Athlete

As a student-athlete, it may require more discipline to experience a new culture while maintaining fitness. However, the work is worth the sights, lessons, friends, and personal growth you will experience while away from home.

By Ryan Adams — November 22, 2022

Six Keys to Studying Abroad as a Student - Athlete

In the spring semester of 2018, I had the privilege of studying abroad in South America for four months. It was the perfect opportunity to sharpen my Spanish skills, live in a foreign country, and preserve my winter and spring eligibility to return for a full fifth year of athletics competition. My excitement grew during the orientation sessions seeing pictures of the incredible places I would get to visit, but so did my anxiety. How could I continue to train at the high level I grew accustomed to without my coaches, teammates, or access to training facilities? Would I return out of shape or a few months behind? What would happen if I got injured?

It took some time, but I eventually fell into a rhythm in Santiago, Chile. I learned running routes, how to supplement my diet, and purchased a gym membership. I'm most proud of having access to a track—a more difficult feat than it sounds, especially in a foreign country. Initially, I used a dirt track on my college campus that was an hour away via metro. After getting kicked off, I resorted to using a traffic roundabout not far from my host family's apartment complex, roughly 400 meters, though I had to wake up at 5:00 AM to avoid traffic.

After about two months of searching and being denied access by schools and private clubs, I gained access to a track at a local boy's school. It was a two-mile walk, but that was a small price to pay to use a proper track.

Upon my return to the States, I ran personal bests in both primary events, the 1500 and 800, and missed qualifying for the 2018 U.S. championships by one spot. While I write this article from a runner's perspective, I hope student-athletes from any discipline planning on studying abroad can glean some methods to facilitate success during their time abroad.

Communicate with Your Coach

Ironing out a regular meeting schedule with your coach is essential for success. In the age of technology, we have access to various video chat and instant messaging apps. WhatsApp is a great international option. Set a weekly time to discuss training and life so your coach can update workouts appropriately. Communicate stress and difficulties as well as excitement and success.

Explore Your Temporary Home and Find Facilities

Arriving in a new city is stressful but can be especially overwhelming if you require access to athletic facilities. Before you travel to your destination, do a quick Google search in the area where you will reside. Search for gyms, or see if you can spot any stadium nearby. Then, begin to reach out to these places. Be prepared for rejection. Several athletic clubs, military academies, and high schools politely declined my request before I contacted the boy's school athletic director and coach. It was ultimately worth the trouble and was a great way to get to know the city and practice Spanish in a non-classroom setting.

Supplementing Nutrition

Whether you live with a host family or on a college campus, you won't be eating the same foods as you do in your dining hall or back home. This is a great thing, but it can also be challenging to ensure you're optimally fueling your body. Find a local supermarket and familiarize yourself with its selection. If you live with a host family that eats a low-carb and low-fat diet, purchase foods to supplement that. I noticed during my time abroad I lost a lot of weight I couldn't afford to lose. I began supplementing with peanut butter, fruit, bread, and even a regular Snickers bar. As soon as I did, I found my energy levels increased tenfold.

Make Friends with Classmates

Being in a foreign country, you need a support system. It gets lonely, especially if you're focusing on training. Invite your classmates to train with you. Make it a point to connect outside of class. Develop relationships that will extend beyond your return home. Before my time abroad, I could count my non-teammate friends on one hand. Upon returning, I had seventeen more that opened up connections across campus.

Develop a Good Recovery Routine

Without access to an athletic trainer or the same medical facilities you grow accustomed to as a student-athlete, you must learn ways to prehab or rehab your body. Stick to a regular sleeping schedule. If your room is uncomfortable, find ways to make it more like home. Learn how to self-massage with your hands or a roller. Develop a regular stretch and strength routine. Back off on workouts or intensity if something hurts. If you get hurt, take it as an opportunity to find more resources in your city or take a break from your training, which leads to my last point.

Take a Break

This was one that I didn't learn until later, which might be the essential takeaway from this article. It's okay not to be training at the absolute highest level abroad. Your body will not lose all fitness in a few months, especially if you train consistently. Remember that part of studying abroad is immersing yourself in a culture and breaking away from what is familiar and routine.

There is more to life than your sport or your passion. Use the opportunity of not having regular competition and practices to travel to different destinations, make friends with locals or classmates, and give your body and mind some rest. I have no regrets about missing a run to hike trails in Patagonia, even if, at the time, I had my doubts. Take advantage of every unique experience you can at the expense of your training.

Ultimately, studying abroad is not restricted to just non-athletes. It may require more discipline to experience a new culture while maintaining fitness, but the work is worth the sights, lessons, friends, and personal growth you will experience while away from home.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is a professional runner currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Furman University in 2021 earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish Literature and Politics & International Studies, with an interdisciplinary minor in Latin American Studies.
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