Name: Maria Mears
Hometown: Champaign, Illinois
Varsity sport participated in: Women’s Tennis
Study abroad semester and location: Spring 2014, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
What was the best meal you had abroad and why?
Fish and Chips, of course! I was a vegetarian for 8+ years before this past semester. I decided to start eating meat so I could be less picky while I was abroad. It was a good decision. There are plenty of vegetarian options in England, but eating fish is a large part of the diet where I’m living and I’m glad I did it. It’s become my favorite meal and I’ll really miss it when I’m gone. I’m sure nowhere in the US can prepare it quite like it’s done here.
What did you miss most from home/Beloit and how did you deal with it?
I miss all of my friends, family, Theta, and my teammates. I felt like I was part of a great community at Beloit especially with Theta Pi Gamma and the tennis team. It was hard transitioning from that to a whole new environment where I didn’t feel like I had a place. In order to deal with that, I became a member of the study abroad society to maintain some sense of community. It’s nice to be able to talk to other students studying abroad about what they are dealing with and talk to Lancaster students who have spent a term or a year abroad as well. I brought a lot of pictures with me of all my friends and teammates to brighten up my room. I also brought a T-shirt quilt I got as a gift from this past Christmas. It has a bunch of my old tennis shirts from high school and from Beloit sewn into a quilt. Not only does it keep me warm, but it also reminds me of home and of tennis!
What was your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?
Planning a holiday trip around Europe has definitely been what I am most proud of. At Lancaster, we get about a 4-week Easter holiday break between the Lent and Summer term. A group of friends and I decided to do a trip around Europe during the holiday. I went to London, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Marseilles, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Brussels. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I was able to see so many things I never imagined I would be able to. It was also incredibly rewarding because we planned and budgeted the entire trip ourselves. I learned so much about navigation, communication, and working with different personalities. It felt great to do something so amazing over my break instead of lay around and watch Netflix (which is how I usually spend my spring breaks).
Has the time you spent abroad changed the way you think about your athletic experience or your sport in general?
In the UK, sports in general, except for football (soccer), are taken far less seriously. They don’t really have an equivalent to the NCAA and collegiate athletes do what they do purely for fun. It’s more like intramurals than competitive team sports. That isn’t to say that the athletes here don’t take what they do seriously or don’t care, it’s just a different attitude. Other British students find the amount of time I spent playing tennis while I was growing up crazy. Being around this attitude has made me realize that there is more to life than the sport I play and being a tennis player should never be my one defining factor. It’s something I do, but not entirely who I am.
Did being an athlete provide you with any advantages while you were abroad? If yes, what were they?
Being an athlete has made me value teamwork and communication. There were several times when I needed to be able to work with others to accomplish something. I had to do a few group projects, which is unusual in the departments I study in at Lancaster. Independent work is most common, so I actually had more experience working in group settings than my peers did. I think that my experience with being on a team and communicating with team members allowed me to better facilitate group work. Also, while planning my trip around Europe, it was vital that all of us were able to work together. This was hard at times since we’ve all known each other for only a few months, but we had to be able to keep the lines of communication open and be able to trust each other. Again, I really feel like my teamwork skills allowed me to better listen to what was being said and helped me to work with people that may have different personalities than my own.
Some words of advice for other athletes who want to study abroad:
Go! Do it! Seriously! Never let fear of missing out on practice, a season, or the fear that you won’t be as good when you return stop you! Your sport will always be there, but this opportunity will not. You will (probably) never have another time in your life where you can live in another country for a long period of time with few responsibilities ever again. I know that everything I am doing and seeing is once in a lifetime. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity and I am so glad that I did it. Also, you will never appreciate the community at Beloit more than after you have been removed from it. It’s easy to feel guilty about leaving, but once you are abroad you’ll realize how it’s worth missing out on some things.