By Arianna Chen ’19
Tennis has always been a constant in my life and it shows. I’m pretty sure some people have only seen me in athletic wear and think that my tennis rackets are permanently glued to my hands like Thor and his hammer. Being a student-athlete has inevitably been central to my identity.
My desire to study abroad has also been a constant in my life-the ability to do so was one of my priorities while choosing a college. Luckily, the Pomona-Pitzer sports department is fully committed to the full “student-athlete” experience, and even encourages you to go abroad. So with my coach’s blessing, I decided to study abroad in Athens, Greece the fall of my junior year.
And that’s how I ended up in the San Jose, CA airport, lugging around 2 giant suitcases and, just like every other semester, carrying my tennis rackets.
Of course, I knew that being away from tennis full-time would be a challenge. It was not that I was worried I would miss playing or would have trouble trying to find a hitting partner. It was that I was scared that all the hard work I had put in last year would go to waste. It was the thought that I would not be part of the team (major FOMO) and would miss welcoming the new freshmen to our team.
However, when I got to Athens, I was smacked in the face with all the activities that I could do. Invitations to explore Athens, go out for late-night souvlaki, and travel to other countries were thrown at me from all directions as we all took in the feeling of being in a new country. I faced a dilemma: I felt like I should be figuring out how to fit tennis into my schedule because that’s what a responsible student-athlete should do, but at the same time, I was in Greece. I did not know the next time I would be able to do these types of activities again, while I knew that once my time in Greece was over, tennis would once again become central in my life.
For a while, I happily accepted these invitations without a second thought. I actually felt liberated from my responsibilities of being an athlete and welcomed the change-I traded in 7AM workouts and chugging Pedialyte for trips to the Acropolis and checking out new coffee shops. I marveled at my ability to actually say “yes.” I made plans to explore all the parts of Greece I could without having to constantly worry about tennis, something that used to be a given. This was ideal for a while, and my love for Greece grew as I visited new places every weekend while my rackets continued to collect dust. But of course, every honeymoon period has to come to an end.
The worries that I had before coming here began creeping into the back of my mind. I had just spent a month and a half in Greece dilly-dallying, doing nothing “productive,” and for what? I had accomplished nothing except for gaining a slightly rounder belly due to poor self-control and the accessibility of amazing baklava.
I resolved to myself that I would get serious about figuring out how I wanted to navigate being a student-athlete abroad without completely dropping the “athlete” part, and, while daunting, I did. I found a workout buddy and joined the local gym. I researched a couple of tennis clubs and, despite a slight language barrier, eventually got into contact with a coach at the Athens Lawn Tennis Club, the home of the 1st modern Olympics for tennis. I took lessons once a week, which turned out to be a lot of fun and assured me that I could still hit a ball in.
I was able to find a good balance between tending to tennis, doing well in school, and fully embracing the study abroad experience that fit both my needs and wants. My tennis lessons and trips to the gym proved to be a boon to my study abroad experience and not a hindrance like I had originally thought. I was able to fit tennis and working out into my schedule (as long as I didn’t procrastinate too badly…), and it gave me a chance to interact with locals more than I normally would have.
Ultimately, I encourage you to study abroad, even if you’re a student-athlete. Studying abroad is truly an invaluable experience, and being an athlete can actually enhance your time abroad-it’s an easy way to meet locals and teaches you another side to the country’s culture that you might not necessarily get through exploring archeological sites or talking to shopkeepers. Not only have I learned more about Greece, but it also taught me a lot more about myself. With the disappearance of my rigid tennis schedule that I sometimes used as a crutch, I learned another way of life (taking things as they come), and it taught me that I can be someone without tennis. As for the team, I still felt very much a part of the family, and, pro-tip, the constant video chats lessen the FOMO.
Just remember: your sport and your team will be patiently waiting for you when you come back-and the latter will be eager to hear about your new adventures (and you can even trick the new freshmen into thinking that you’re a cool, hip, cultured person!). Go study abroad. Learn a new culture, and use your sport to your advantage. Learn about yourself. Come back. Apply what you’ve learned. You’ll thank me for it.