A Balancing Act

A Balancing Act

In a two-part series, Susquehanna Director of Athletic 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 two, women’s volleyball player Natalie Cicioni discusses how she balanced a semester abroad with her dedication to the volleyball team.

Of the 23 varsity sports Susquehanna University offers, gymnastics is not one of them, but picture for a moment a balance beam. Go too far to the left or right, and you fall off. Go too far off one end or the other and you’re quickly on your backside.

The student-athletes at Susquehanna walk that balance beam every day as they are among a relatively small group that must quickly learn to manage academics, athletics and some semblance of a social life. It’s not easy to manage class schedules, grueling practices and gamedays and then have any energy left over for schoolwork and friends.

But they do it because they value education, the opportunity to call themselves collegiate student-athletes and because they love their sport.

So what happens when you throw in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like the chance to study abroad? For SU student-athletes, you take it.

Susquehanna’s GO (Global Opportunities) Program enters its second year of existence in the fall of 2011. Under the program, all SU students are required to participate in the GO program, which allows students the opportunity to participate in a traditional semester-abroad program or by experiencing a shorter learning situation that puts them in an unfamiliar cultural context.

Being a student-athlete does not mean you are exempt from studying abroad, but rather than viewing it as another task on their ever-expanding to-do lists, Susquehanna’s student-athletes embrace yet another unique opportunity available to them.

Senior volleyball player Natalie Cicioni, a biology major, spent the 2011 spring semester in Italy. As a then-junior, her study abroad experience was not a GO requirement and yet she still chose to dedicate an entire semester to studying in Italy where she explored a variety of topics and was enrolled in four courses, all while enjoying the Italian lifestyle.

“My apartment was only about a 10-minute walk from the Vatican and every morning I would go across the street and get a cappuccino and cornetto for only one Euro,” she recalled. “My apartment was also really close to a hilly spot that gave me the most beautiful view of the entire city.”

Spending the entire spring on a different continent did mean she missed an entire volleyball offseason, though.

“The spring is a critical time of the year [for volleyball] when you work on individual issues as well as play with all the returning players for the next fall,” she said, “so I did miss valuable practice and playing time.”

To combat that, she worked harder than ever during the summer and preseason weeks. But for Cicioni, despite the extra work it meant for her in the long run, the decision was the right one.
“The experience was beneficial and I absolutely recommend studying abroad to any student, including student-athletes,” she explained. “A lot of people don’t realize how much being a college athlete takes out of you. Escaping from a crazy schedule for a semester was perfect.”

Much like her trip to Italy, Cicioni would never give up her experiences as a student-athlete, despite that hectic schedule.

“I choose to be a student-athlete because I love to play the sport,” she said. “I love the team that I am a part of and the experiences I’ve had with them.”