5 Steps to Stay Fit while Studying Abroad
because your time abroad is a marathon, not a sprint
By Topher Wos, Marist College
I spent the spring semester of my junior year traveling around Europe and studying abroad at the Aston School of Business in Birmingham, England. I chose to study abroad to expand my cultural understanding of the world, earn business credits towards my finance major, and step out of my comfort zone. While in Birmingham, I quickly began to miss parts of my daily routines and the comforts of home. The thing I missed the most was an American gym. I missed multiple squat racks, dead lift platforms, and the rows and rows of benches. The following are certain steps to take to prevent the systematic untagging in photos from that upcoming beach trip to Barcelona.
Step 1: Find the Food
You are expected to eat your way through Europe. I would personally be upset if a study abroad student chose this semester of their life to diet. But please note, that if you eat out every meal, there will be no money left to travel. You need to establish a base of operations, a spot where you will visit a few times a week to stock up your food supplies. This food spot should offer cheap, fresh produce. If locals do their daily shopping there, it guarantees some degree of quality. I frequented Birmingham’s Open Market a mile from my apartment. Outdoor stalls offered fresh produce that I could purchase in bulk for reasonable prices. Do not be intimidated to haggle prices; a few pounds every week can potentially be the much needed upgrade from Ryanair. The intense mile walk back to my apartment carrying my bodyweight in chicken and broccoli can be considered some form of exercise.
Be mindful of what you eat. Study abroad is a marathon, not a sprint. The gelato shop will be there tomorrow and the next week and the next. Skip the cup the size of your face and order the small; you will save yourself the regret later. When dining out, order anything roasted over fried. Order the greens, instead of diving into the bread basket. The bread on the table is not always free; remember the waiters are watching your every move. In the United Kingdom, water is free so drink up. While traveling throughout Europe, water is expensive. Drink it anyway, I do not recommend dehydration.
Step 2: Find the Workout
Find your workout place. I discovered a back alley gym with naked body builder photos plastered all over the walls. I also found the university gym which is generally reasonably close and budget friendly. I chose the university gym for my regular workouts. This gym was far from my dream gym, but it proved adequate for my needs. If there is no room in the budget for a gym membership, that’s totally understandable. The whole world can be your gym. Grab a pair of running sneakers and go forth to explore the city. You will soon be able to navigate better than your friends, and impress the English girls by finding the “cute” little coffee shop for lunch.
Stick to the gym basics. If the bar ain’t saggin’, yo workout is slackin’. People who are scared to lift heavy things for fear of their muscles becoming ‘too bulky’ should be dropped in a pit somewhere. You should be sweating from your exercise. You should not be conversing with the opposite sex. This is the time to ignore people and blast music that makes you angry. Write down your daily lifts, it allows you to track progress and set future goals. Do not shy away from cardio, doing this a few times a week will allow you to enjoy those beers guilt free.
Step 3: Find the Time
I understand that finding time to exercise is difficult. I understand that the Cheese Tasting 101 exam tomorrow will have you up all night in the library. Classes abroad will generally be easier than classes in the states. Free yourself for at least an hour a day that you normally spend doing nothing anyway. Exercise is a good investment of your time, since you and your body are going to be hanging out for a while.
Step 4: Find the Motivation
Set reasonable goals to meet and maintain your strength. Goals kept me focused and motivated not to slack. Setting goals relative to my body weight kept me honest about my diet as well. For example, adding 10 pounds to your bench is not impressive if you gained 20 pounds of bodyweight. These goals will keep you from grabbing the 65 pence candies at every checkout lane. I did splurge a couple of times though. In the UK chocolate is cheaper than water. Know that while you are getting cultured overseas, your boys back home will be striving with the sole purpose of making you feel inadequate upon your return. You will want to crush their spirits when you get back, so plan accordingly.
Step 5: Find the Balance
Going abroad is a wonderful experience that will lead to living a fuller life down the road. It is possible to find balance between school, traveling, and healthy living. For example, my European friends and I traveled to Wales for a hiking excursion. On this excursion, we hiked Pen y Fan, the highest peak in southern Wales. Hiking there was a completely different experience than hiking in the states. I killed two birds with one stone; I got some culture, exercise, and new Facebook photos. I call that a win.
During the study abroad experience, you will be traveling and relaxing. Do not cancel the trip to Budapest because it falls on back and bi day. Do not beat yourself up too bad about staying in shape. But at the same time, do not throw away your fitness completely to suck the cream filling out of Cadbury eggs watching Walking Dead episodes online.