Matt Han / Gavel Media

Can('t) Student-Athletes go Abroad?

*the name of the athlete interviewed has been changed to maintain anonymity

The widespread emphasis on studying abroad while in college renders it a seemingly impossible opportunity to pass up. Whether it be visiting a country for the first time, traveling around the continent, learning new cultures, or just for pleasure, studying abroad poses a plethora of benefits for anyone who goes. But, as always with benefits, they bring disadvantages, too–being far away from home, safety precautions, and loneliness to name a few.

One population on campus, however, faces an additional, precarious problem. While student athletes have a commitment to their team, they also have a commitment to their education,. If a student-athlete chooses to study abroad, however, they would be missing a part of their training (whether in-season or offseason); but the tradeoff is gaining an experience that likely will not arise again. But, can student athletes truly study abroad?

While most students are fortunate enough to view going abroad as embracing a rare opportunity, most athletes are forced to look at it as a sacrifice: giving up one (athletics) for the other (academics). We sat down with a student-athlete here at Boston College to discuss the potential of studying abroad and the hindrances that come along with it. In order to protect the identity of the student, we will refer to her as Kate.

Kate played her sport at BC during high school, but had not always intended on participating in college. She had decided that she would pick the school for the school itself, and then possibly look to play her sport as well. After a windy journey towards choosing a school, she ultimately chose BC and ended up joining a sports team as well. Despite an initial uncertainty of being a Division I athlete during the fall of her freshman year, Kate has since grown to love being on the team and being a student-athlete at BC.

“Now, I can’t imagine what my experience would be without it,” stated Kate, regarding her sport. “I feel like my life would be so different in general.”

The youngest of several children, Kate always had studying abroad on her radar, perhaps even more so than the average student–her older siblings had always raved about their own experiences abroad while Kate was growing up. Even in high school ,when one sat in on an information session at a college, study abroad held high regard as an opportunity many schools pride themselves on. The possibility is engraved in students minds even before stepping on a college campus as an undergrad.

“All of my older siblings had gone abroad,” said Kate. “It’s just another thing that’s in the college experience…you only get this chance to study abroad.”

Student-athletes already have a much different college experience than most students do, considering the added commitment of being on a team that requires just as much, if not more hours a week than attending class. This being said, having a more open  dialogue about athletes studying abroad could allow students to better connect with the educational aspect of their career. The most current problem, however: the conversation is often not even taking place.

Most coaches chose not to bring up the topic for obvious reasons; they don’t want to lose a member of their team–that they recruited–for any part of the year whether in-season or not. Thus, student-athletes are often left to wonder if the silence signifies a closed topic of discussion. Because going abroad would mean missing out on a significant portion of a team’s training, some student-athletes, like Kate, fear that coaches do not even see study abroad as being an option.

In addition to concerns about the impact of an athlete’s return after having missed months of team training, workouts, and bonding while abroad–as Kate laments–there’s a greater concern. Kate admits that there is always a worry in the back of her mind that her teammates and coaches may see the decision to go abroad as a lack of commitment to the team.

“I think it’s setting the precedent that it’s okay to go abroad,” said Kate. “If four people do it our year, maybe six will do it the next, and they’ll just see the team go down like that,” Kate hypothesizes.

If one student goes abroad, it might open the door for other students to do the same–and Kate’s biggest fear is negatively impacting the mentality or the camaraderie of her beloved team.

Kate also notes that although her team has a fairly large roster at BC, her coaches still emphasize an individual commitment to the team, as most would. Choosing to go abroad may suggest that one thinks they are better than the rest of the team and don’t need to put in as much work. With the competitive and devoted nature of DI athletics, it would be difficult not to consider the interpretation of one’s decisions by the rest of the team.

“Everyone is scared that once they have that conversation with them (the coach), will they stop watching us as much knowing that we’re going to be leaving,” said Kate, “Or even if they say flat-out no, will they still think less of us?”

While no rule asserts that student-athletes cannot study abroad, there seems to exist an unspoken ban on the matter. For instance, just one athlete on her team went abroad during the 2016-17 school year, and that particular athlete wound up not returning to the team this season.

But an athlete is not necessarily in the clear after having the “conversation” with coaches, either. Kate spoke about the possibility of the team looking out for every flaw in someone who went abroad and not sympathizing with a possible poor performance because the same amount of effort was not given in the prior season. In addition, if one notices that the coaches are not giving them the same amount of attention as before, the fear that it would be related to going abroad remains.

Not only would the decision to go abroad affect an athlete’s life at BC after coming back to the Heights, but also potential job opportunities. Having the words “student-athlete” on a resume makes a person a competitive applicant, as does studying abroad. Both are opportunities that allow one to grow as a person, yet it would be difficult to be certain as to which one companies would favor which, should companies have a preference at all.

In relation, studying abroad in the summer still remains an option. However, the potential to miss out on a career-driven job opportunity, as well as training for the sport season, remain fairly significant barriers to this decision.

Boston College advertises study abroad as a large part of the “BC experience.” Kate feels that if there was a written policy of sorts that approved of student-athletes studying abroad, then maybe players would feel better about the decision to make that choice, especially considering the pride BC puts into its athletic programs. Although their teammates may still find the decision to be unwise, having solid permission to do so would lighten the mental load.

“Hopefully, it won’t have to come between choosing [the sport] and choosing abroad,” said Kate. “If I had the decision made for me, I would feel so bad as if some opportunity as taken away from me because someone said I couldn’t do it. If you have the chance now, you might as well take it because when will you have it again?”

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