Running Through the World

The Claremont Colleges encourage the broadening of horizons, a quintessentially well-rounded education, and the classic pursuit (with apologies to ASICS) of “anime sana, corpore sano” (sound mind, sound body). In fact, a Claremont education’s commitment to community, sport, and academics as a means of personal growth might be one of its most valuable attributes, though this is not the forum where this matter should be discussed. Instead, in response to last week’s spread in TSL about studying abroad, it seems only fitting that a piece in this issue should be dedicated to the pursuit of athletic endeavors while in a foreign country. This is that piece.

When going abroad, few consider the effects their desired destination will have on their athletic life. After all, a classic selling point of a study abroad program is getting to experience another culture, to see an otherwise inaccessible part of the world, or to improve upon humans’ inherent inability to grasp the scale of globalization. And this is without mentioning the obvious: that athletics play a different role across geopolitical boundaries.

Consider hometown Claremont. Even here, where—if I might sweep so broadly—the cultural challenges are minimal to many of us, the undertakings of athletes across various sports are wildly underappreciated by those who do not play a sport themselves. Runners might find it strange that baseball practice involves a whole lot more “watching” than “playing.” Other members of the community might find it strange that men and women are self-secure enough to don minimal clothing and jog through town for upwards of two hours. Indeed, they often express their misunderstanding of the athlete’s lifestyle in the form of car honks, weird looks, or the occasional unoriginal slurs or calls of “run, Forrest, run!” Transplant these same athletes doing these same activities to a country that might be thousands of miles away, and you begin to understand why sport is rarely a top consideration when examining study abroad options. This, of course, also ignores the fact that athletes do not have a season in which to participate while abroad, unless they are particularly ambitious.

Yet I am here to tell you that sport should be a consideration when one is looking to head overseas. 5C athletes label themselves as such proudly, and going abroad does not change that. To be sure, a sport can become part of who you are. The daily routine of a jog or a pick-up soccer match or what have you can often lend stability to what might otherwise be a cliché, roller coaster-­style transition to life in an unfamiliar place rife with unfamiliar customs, expectations, food, and language. At the very least, it can become a conversation starter with that guy in the bar you never would have met had you not encountered him on, say, a run earlier that same day.

Moreover, student-athletes abroad can open themselves to many more unique experiences during their months away from Claremont while gaining a different perspective on who they are. Recreational pastimes can become the lens through which experiences are viewed or more easily recalled, like “that vivid splash of color as I cycled past Big Ben in the springtime.” Without a team, they can begin to find a sense of individuality as they become “the runner” or “the cyclist” in lieu of being a P-P or CMS _______ player—an individuality that can help them better define themselves as they return to Claremont and ultimately depart from it for the final time in May of whatever year. If nothing else, athletes can gain a sense of accomplishment in, and familiarity with, their destination of choice by partaking in sports. Such feelings can also serve to reassure them that they did indeed make the most of their time abroad.

That is not to say that a phenomenal abroad experience is guaranteed just by joining the local rugby squad. Unfortunately, ensuring a fantastic semester elsewhere is nearly impossible and depends on many factors, including some entirely out of human control. Nonetheless, I still believe athletic endeavors should not only be a factor when considering overseas study but also a reason in and of themselves. After all, as Paul Balmer PO ’12 said in an e-mail to members of PPXC before they left the United States in spring 2012:

“By running, you’ll be able to see things you’d never see. I can’t [count] the number of tiny villages I ran through out on country roads, the sunsets, the bizarre things thrown away, the roads that end, the people and cars and places I never would have seen if I hadn’t decided to grab a quick run. You don’t go on a run you regret. But I shouldn’t waste time telling you guys why to run—you already know why, and it’s gotten you this far. Maybe study abroad will be like an all-­encompassing, life-­changing, best semester/experience of your life. I can’t promise that will be the case. I think you’ll find that like college, being abroad is different than anything you’ve done before: It has its ups and downs, you’ll do a lot of cool shit, and you’ll probably learn something about yourself. What I can promise is that you’ll learn a lot about yourself as a runner and what it means to you and what it can be for you. At least I did.”

So go ahead, go abroad. Go abroad and be an athlete. See the world. Connect with your surroundings and the people who inhabit it. Experience things that are missed by others, like how the leaves change with the seasons or how the skyline changes as a city rebuilds from earthquake damage. Give yourself another means by which to delve into the physical, emotional, and academic growing processes that accompany any extended stay away from home, and come back, if not entirely changed, at least a bit more sound in both mind and body.

Like Paul, I did.

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