Name: Alex Spirov
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Varsity sport(s) participate in: Women’s Soccer
Study abroad semester and location: Chicago ACM Program Spring 2013
What was your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?
My Chicago adventure started with me thinking that Chicago consisted of the big downtown skyscraper, Navy Pier, Lake Michigan and that was the vast majority of the city. I did not understand, even after visiting dozens of times, that the city has so many complexities on so many levels. Downtown ended up being only a tiny part of my experience in Chicago. I learned that the city is made up of many districts and neighborhoods and I had the opportunity to explore a ton of Chicago. I would say I am most proud of exploring, understanding, and learning about a new city in depth and being able to call it home. Although it is a city within the US, I still feel the history and collective cultures are so important. When the program ended I can honestly say that I was an adapted Chicagoan and knew the city better than most people that live there.
How were you able to get involved with your host culture while abroad?
Like I said before, I never thought of Chicago as a place that would have neighborhoods and community building. I found that each neighborhood in Chicago contributes to the city in a unique way while still being a separate “city within a city”. My neighborhood, Logan Square, was a new and developing community that consisted of many generations of Hispanic families as well as young, single individuals that had been steadily moving into the community. It was an assignment to get to know our neighborhood but by the end of the program I wanted to keep finding ways to get involved. I went to knitting club at the local library, supported local musicians, made friends with the neighborhood homeless gentlemen, went to dance lessons in my community, talked with students who are involved in this community, met the owner of the self-started neighborhood book store, and just lived and contributed to the area in which I lived.
How were you able to stay in shape or stay prepared for your sport while you were gone?
There was a gym that I joined to work out a few times a week. It was nice to have someplace to go and I had to take a bus there so I did get to know my neighborhood a little better. There were actually a few other athletes from ACM schools in my program that needed to stay in shape too; we would talk and collaborate about ways to do that. Although it was not my number one priority, nor did I want it to be, I did find time to exercise. I say this because I would rather be immersed in the abroad experience rather than look for every opportunity to train. An athlete is only part of who am or what I do.
Did being an athlete provide you with any advantages while you were abroad? If yes, what were they?
Yes, actually. When the weather got nicer I would run outside, that is when I discovered a turf field in my neighborhood. My community was predominantly Hispanic so I would play soccer with the local Hispanic kids when I had the time. That experience was so amazing, using my athletic ability to be able to immerse myself more thoroughly into my community.
Some words of advice for other athletes who want to study abroad:
Don’t let athletics stand in your way. Your coach will work with you; if studying aboard is something that you really want to pursue, you need to go for it. Beloit is a great place to explore your options. Although being an athlete is a big part of my Beloit experience, so is studying abroad and there are definitely ways to do both and even more for that matter.