Name: Anna Wenzel
Hometown: Tillamook, Oregon
Varsity sports participated in: Track & Field, Cross Country
Study abroad semester and location: Fall 2013 & Spring 2014, Kaifeng, China
What was the best meal you had abroad and why?
I found quite a few restaurants around campus that I began eating at regularly, but one of my favorites was this place that made giant stir-fries. I would usually go with a group of people, and we would get to pick out all of the various types of spinach, tofu, mushrooms, rice cakes sweet potatoes, and other things that they would then cook up in a giant stir-fry with peanuts and hot peppers and serve with rice.
How were you able to get involved with your host culture while abroad?
I tried to get involved with several activities around the community. For a little while I attended a community dance class in the park every night. I also became interested in different religious sites around the city, and so I started regularly visiting a Buddhist temple, a Taoist temple, and a mosque. I became more involved at the Buddhist temple and befriended a monk who started lending me literature to read. I also visited a lot of historical sites around Kaifeng, and on trips to other parts of China. One of the most impressive sites that I visited was the Longmen Grottoes in LuoYang, but I also got to travel to Anyang, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xiamen, Guangzhou, and Sanya.
How were you able to stay in shape or stay prepared for your sport while you were gone?
I tried to make running a part of my daily routine. For a while I would get up at 6 every morning and go running before class, but I eventually got tired of that and started running in the afternoons or evenings instead. I tried to find other people to run with me--some of the other foreigners here going through programs would sometimes run with me, but I also found a running club that would run in the afternoons and so I tried to run with them frequently. I would do some of my runs on the track when I was trying to work on my pace, and other runs around the city. When I first got to Kaifeng, I found that running around the city really helped me learn my way around the city and discover interesting sites. I also continued to try to pay attention to what I was eating, and made sure that I was getting enough fruits and vegetables in my daily diet.
How did your identity as an athlete influence your experiences abroad?
I found that I had to take more initiative to keep up with running. At Beloit, most of my friends are athletes, and so I am surrounded by a community that encourages working hard at your sport both in training and in your lifestyle choices. In Kaifeng I usually have to take initiative to keep up with my diet and training, and sometimes having to compromise more things for my studies and social life. Something that I noticed early on was how people’s attitudes towards exercise differed from attitudes in the US. Exercise is encouraged as a way of life, a way of being healthy, and a way of being involved in a community, and so I notice many people fitting it into their daily routine. However, there don’t seem to be as many people who work towards being very athletic or competitive. I also noticed that women were not as involved in sports as men were here, and so I often got surprised reactions from friends when they found out that I was a runner.
Some words of advice for other athletes who want to study abroad:
When going abroad, you will probably have to take a lot more initiative in keeping up with training and your diet than you would back home. It’s good to seek out restaurants nearby that have healthier options, and to try to seek out athletic communities as well as keeping training a part of your daily routine, however, you will have to make compromises. Depending on where you go, attitudes towards sports may be vastly different from what you’re used to. In China, although there are athletic communities on campus, the University doesn’t have organized teams or competitions because athletics don’t have the same competitive culture here as they do in the US. However, getting involved in any sort of community and finding friends to regularly work out with helps a lot. My training hasn’t been as rigorous as it would be if I were still back in Beloit, but being more flexible has allowed me to be more involved in the community and have many other valuable experiences.