‘Soccer is a language in itself’
Three Lehigh players experience studying abroad in Belgium
The demands and expectations of a student-athlete are extensive.
Time is limited, but it doesn't mean that all opportunities outside of academics and athletics go out the window. Lehigh rising juniors Katie Centeno, Emily Korber and Madi Morgan studied abroad in Belgium earlier this summer, enjoying the same experiences as other Lehigh students, despite their busy schedule.
Centeno, Korber and Morgan recently participated in the one-month long "Lehigh in Belgium" program which bridged May and June. The program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary year, is located in the heart of the European Union. Marketing and music courses have been designed to take advantage of Belgium's role in the political, economic and cultural development of modern Europe. Professors Jim Maskulka (Department of Marketing) and Paul Salerni (Department of Music) have designed the program; students taking both marketing and music classes receive a broad perspective on the economic and cultural life of contemporary Europe.
Korber first discovered the program and due to the soccer commitment during the school year, this summer opportunity caught her attention.
"The combination of the classes, timing and location really got me interested," she said. "I told Katie and Madi that I applied and they were on board and decided to apply, too."
"We received an email that we were accepted about a week after applying," Centeno said. "It all happened very quickly in the late part of last fall. We couldn't believe it was actually happening until we were boarding the plane."
There were only 40 students on the trip and five were student-athletes.
"I have always wanted to study abroad, so this seemed perfect," Morgan said. "All three of us could go, it wasn't too long, we heard great things from other students who went previously, it didn't take away from soccer or school and we have always wanted to travel Europe together."
Centeno pictured they'd be staying in a city atmosphere, but it was a town feel.
"I had been to Europe before, but never in this kind of setting," she said. "I imagined it as more of a big city, when in fact we were living in a pretty small city outside of Brussels, filled with over 40,000 Belgian students."
"The town had so many things to explore," Korber said. "Being able to travel on the weekends was also amazing. It was great meeting new people, not just in Europe, but also from Lehigh. We grew very close to a lot of [Lehigh] Greek life students that we would normally not often see. I'm happy we made friendships that we can continue at Lehigh."
One of the biggest adjustments was the language barrier. Centeno expected French to be the native language, but she also came across Dutch and English.
"In Leuven, there were a lot more people who spoke English than any place we visited," she said. "Maybe that was because it was a university city, but I was shocked. Even in Brussels, the EU capital, not many people spoke English."
The trio enjoyed rewarding experiences in the classroom. Morgan registered to take two jazz classes in Belgium.
"I have no jazz background whatsoever, but Professor Salerni was amazing," she said. "He brought great energy to the class and was so much fun. The classes were very flexible, which allowed us to have a lot of free time. I was not expecting as much free time as we had. I only had classes Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10:30 then an additional two-hour class once a week."
The free time was beneficial, allowing the trio to explore different aspects of Belgium and learn just as much outside the classroom as in it.
"On Wednesdays, we'd have field trips with the whole group," Morgan said. "This allowed us to explore Leuven, play soccer with Europeans and Lehigh students, work out and relax. We were also allowed to travel on the weekends."
Centeno, Korber and Morgan traveled to places such as Barcelona and Rome.
"I could never have imagined the beauty of these cities," Centeno said. "The memories we made are unforgettable."
Throughout the trip, some cultural differences came to the surface.
"One of the biggest differences came with meals, mainly dinner time," Centeno said. "Dinner is eaten at a much later hour, maybe 9 or 10 p.m. [given the sun doesn't set until about 9:45 or 10 p.m.]. Each meal is expected to be more of a social time than a stop and go. Your waiter doesn't come and check on you every five minutes; they expect you to be there for hours and are in no rush to scoot you out so they can turn the table for more customers.
"Another huge difference was the price of water. Water was never free ... ever. It was actually more expensive than most other beverages ... We were in shock, even at our institute. Unless it was meal time, they insisted we go buy our water."
Another difference was limited ice at restaurants, along with wedding rings being worn on the right hand. In addition, people walked to places more often than in the United States.
While there were some differences, the trip was also an affirmation of similarities among different groups of people.
"I was expecting Europe to be a totally different world," Korber said. "This trip taught me that people still have similarities all around the world. The college students in town had similar interests and values."
Even though they had plenty to do and many places to see, the trio didn't forget about the upcoming soccer season. They stayed sharp as they prepare for the year ahead.
"We would go on runs together around the city and we found the college athletic facilities just about a mile away," Centeno said. "We would go there, get some sprints in and kick around a soccer ball. One of the first times we went to the field, there were some local Belgian guys playing a pickup game and they looked around our age.
"We all decided we should try and play with them. When we asked if we could play, they kind of chuckled and kept pushing the question off to one another. Finally, one guy said we could play, so we jumped right in. For the first 10 minutes, they never gave us the ball, but once we finally integrated into the game, we proved to them that girls can play soccer. Most of them played at a pretty high level and it was a lot of fun to get to play in such a different environment.
"By the end of the game, a few of them were laughing and we asked what was so funny. They immediately all responded, 'We're just shocked how good you girls are.' "
This trip was further affirmation of the tremendous experience student-athletes receive at Lehigh.
"I love the fact that Lehigh encourages opportunities to discover areas outside of our campus and in the broader world," Morgan said. "I never would have had this opportunity to explore Europe if I wasn't a student at Lehigh. It really opened my eyes to different perspectives and viewpoints. This is going to enrich my Lehigh experience. I'm looking forward to incorporating what I have learned into my last two years at the university."
"There are both winter and summer programs," Korber said. "I would absolutely recommend any athlete to look into a study abroad experience because it's a huge learning opportunity, not just in the classroom, but also exploring the world."
Centeno, Korber and Morgan are back in the states and excited for the 2014 season, which is quickly approaching.
"I know I can speak for the whole team that we are all so excited to see what's in store," Centeno said. "We all worked so hard during the spring and really enjoyed playing with each other, which I think is one of the most important dynamics of a team. I am very excited to get the freshmen integrated and can't wait to see what they bring to the table. Especially as an upperclassman, I am definitely realizing how blessed we are to be playing the sport we love with our best friends every day."
Whether it's with their Lehigh teammates or overseas in Belgium, there is one common denominator that always seems to be a connection.
"I thought the language barrier in Belgium would be harder when we were playing with them, but the game of soccer is a language in itself," Centeno said.