September 12, 2011

Passion Without Boundaries

Passion Without Boundaries

In a two-part series, Susquehanna Director of Athletics Communications Katie Meier will take a look at how study abroad experiences impact its student-athlete population—how they balance it all, what types of experiences they have and what they ultimately take away from it. In part one, women's basketball player Ariana Stowe talked about how she worked her passion for basketball into her time in Costa Rica.


At the ripe old age of 20, Susquehanna junior Ariana Stowe has already experienced first-hand the secret to a fulfilling life: identify your passion and find a way to incorporate it into your life every chance you get. As a member of the women's basketball team, it would appear she's done just that by pursuing an education while also playing the sport she loves.

Simply playing basketball during her time at SU is not the only way she's incorporating her passion into her life, though. She found an even more meaningful way to explore her passions by going beyond the boundaries of the Susquehanna community.

Every student at Susquehanna, an athlete or not, who entered the university beginning in the fall of 2010 is required to complete a cross-cultural experience as part of the GO (Global Opportunities) Program. A unique opportunity crossed Stowe's plate early in her sophomore year and started the ball rolling on what she regards as one of the most fulfilling experiences she's had.

"[Susquehanna] Coach [Jim] Reed forwarded an email he had received from Josh Erickson, who is the program director for a program called Beyond Study Abroad," Stowe explained. "Josh is a former basketball player from a DIII university. Maybe five years ago, he went to Costa Rica for his own cross-cultural experience and realized there was an opportunity to connect sports to the kids in Costa Rica by creating youth sport camps. He also recognized it was something college, student-athletes could get involved in and benefit from, as well."

Because a summer session in Costa Rica was not an already existing GO Program, Stowe had a lot of legwork in front of her to get her trip approved. She had to submit a proposal which then had to go through a formal review process. Fortunately her trip to Costa Rica was approved and she was off to spend six weeks in a foreign country with other student-athletes from across the country.

The program involves six-week sessions for collegiate student-athletes and combined college courses, athletic training work and the opportunity to work with and teach underprivileged Costa Rican children a variety of sports.

Basketball provided Stowe with something familiar in a strange country and her transition was also aided by her host family. Not only was her host family great – "our host mom was amazing," she said. "She was so attentive to our needs and she always ate meals with us," – but she also roomed with another college athlete from the U.S. which made life a bit more comfortable.

Stowe was also lucky in that Erickson could train her specifically in basketball. Other student-athletes were not as fortunate.

"There weren't just basketball players there," Stowe said. "In fact, I was only the basketball player in my group. There one girl who played lacrosse, three who played softball, a girl who played soccer, a few cross country runners and a football player. I was fortunate because unless your sport is actually played in Costa Rica, you couldn't get sport-specific training. But I was able to get one-on-one training with Josh so that was something unique to my experience."

Stowe was also able to partake in speed, agility, footwork and conditioning drills. And while Coach Reed was probably glad to hear about the work she put in to improve her basketball skills in the offseason, Stowe benefitted in much larger ways.

In addition to taking an intermediate Spanish course to earn credits and working on honing her basketball skills, Stowe spent time working with youth sport camps, which was the main purpose behind her trip.
"We worked with a company called FundaVida that facilitated these camps," she explained. "It was really open-ended. At one point it was me and another guy with literally 40 Costa Rican kids. It was overwhelming because they have tons of energy and just wanted to kick the basketball and I was ready to crumble. After that I just said, 'I'm just going to relax and realize they're just kids and they just want to play. If some of them want to learn basketball that's great, I can teach those who want to learn.'"

What was already a passion before her trip expanded more than she thought possible.

"Personally, I wasn't overly comfortable around kids before this trip," she admitted, "but there's just something about kids who don't have much that makes them appreciate you so much more. I realized how much of an impact I was making on these kids and it was emotionally overwhelming. No one really understood the experience except those who went through it with me.

"I was also able to learn what my strengths are on my own rather than having someone else tell me what they are," she continued. "I found out first-hand I had strengths I had never been aware of and could do things on my own in an unfamiliar place."

It's no secret that balancing academics, athletics and a study-abroad experience like Stowe's can be overwhelming. Student-athletes either have to sacrifice an offseason of training or forgo a summer break in order to study abroad, but according to Stowe, it should never feel like a sacrifice.

"If your sport is your passion, then find a way to make it work," she said. "Don't stop looking for a way to incorporate everything you love to do with everything you're required to do because there is a way to do both. Teaching people something you love to do and seeing them love it, as well, that's what makes the difference."