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Student-athletes face challenges when looking to study abroad

Published: February 5, 2014, 11:42 pm ET
Online Managing Editor

When athletes are recruited by University of Richmond, coaches and representatives of the athletic department tell them that, ideally, once in their four-year tenure their team will have the opportunity to travel abroad, junior field hockey player Becca Barry said.

However, that ideal does not come without obstacles.

Athletes who wish to study abroad need to take into account the duration of their team’s season and how missing time could affect the success of the team. Sending an entire team abroad ­­— as the men’s basketball team did when it played games in Switzerland and Italy in 2012 and in Spain in 2008 — is a costly and time-intensive process.

Field hockey players and coaches are currently in the midst of this process as they work toward traveling to Ireland as a team this coming spring break. The team would play four to five games against Irish clubs while traveling and learning about the country, Barry said.

The trip is a thrilling prospect for Barry, who lived in Limerick, Ireland before coming to Richmond as a freshman, because she is excited to share her home culture with her American teammates, she said.

The trip is not finalized, though, because the team will be charged with raising $80,000 to fund the tour themselves.

The athletic department does not provide financial assistance for team trips, so the team will have to rely on alumni and parents to help raise the money, Gina Lucido, head field hockey coach, said.

Although Lucido encourages the implementation of the Richmond Promise and President Ayers’ desire that all students have a study abroad experience, she said if the majority of her junior players went abroad in the spring it would disrupt the cohesion of the team and the leadership development process.

That is why the opportunity to travel as a team would be such a great experience, because the team could receive cultural exposure without some girls sacrificing an entire spring season, she said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association allows teams to make foreign excursions every four years, according to the Richmond athletics website. The field hockey team has never traveled as a group in Lucido’s seven years at Richmond, she said.

Athletes who do choose to study abroad need to consult with their coaches and members of the athletic department, such as Bruce Matthews, associate athletic director, to construct a plan that coincides with their academic and athletic needs.

Athletes often have to work harder to make studying abroad fit into their college plan, but one of the core tenets of the athletic department is to expand opportunities to support study abroad, Matthews said.

One way the athletic department met that goal was by partnering with the department for Latin American and Iberian Studies to develop a summer study abroad program called Academics and Athletics in Spain.

The program is geared toward enabling athletes to have a study abroad experience without having to sacrifice their summer training schedules, Matthews said. Classes are in the afternoons, so the athletes can work out in the mornings at a training facility determined by the athletic department.

The Seville program, and others like it, enables Richmond to send more athletes abroad than many other universities, Matthews said. Members of the athletic department use their flexibility and willingness to help athletes find a way to go abroad — even if they have to be imaginative and deviate from the typical study abroad experience ­— as a recruiting tool, Matthews said.

“In the end, our role is sometimes just as simple as in asking how do we make something happen for our student-athletes rather than looking for reasons why it can’t be done,” Matthews said.

Contact staff writer Erin Flynn at

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