Cultural Experience | All Experiences

How Running Shaped my Abroad Experience

I thrive on routine.

When I told people I was going to study abroad, it came as a surprise to many of my friends and family. Heck, I’d say that I surprised myself the most. Most people know that I can be uptight and specific about how I do certain things. I viewed studying abroad as the semester where a lot of spontaneous decisions are made and things don’t always go according to plan, and this frightened me but also thrilled me. During my fall semester of sophomore year, I made the official decision to study abroad in Geneva, Switzerland in the following spring semester.

For me, the staple of my daily routine includes running. Knowing that I was moving to a new environment, going to attend a new school, and be surrounded by other college students who did not attend my home university was scary. I wanted something that I could keep myself busy with or turn to in case I got anxious and needed a stress reliever. I knew that I did not want to give up running when I went abroad. While packing, I made sure to leave room in my suitcase so that I could pack enough (hand-washable) running clothes and two pairs of running shoes.

When I got to Geneva, it rained almost the entire first week that I was there. I had to take a tram and then a train to get to school for my classes. The school that I attended had a dainty gym that was just one big room and it looked like a play room for preschoolers, but filled with a few weight machines, cardio machines, and a weight rack. There were two treadmills and they looked like they were from the early 2000s. But when the sun finally came out, I took my one chance and went for a run around the neighborhood where my school was located. As I went on my run, I couldn’t help but feel a bit paranoid. It was a new area and I never knew what I’d run into. Crossing the street was terrifying because people in Europe drive very quickly, and if I got lost I wouldn’t be able to ask for directions due to my terrible, minimal French speaking skills. At one point, I thought I should just turn back and go run in the gym. But I was able to convince myself that I was going to be okay and the worst case scenario was getting lost and having to walk back to the school.

More: City Guide to Geneva, Switzerland

I ended up running all the way from my school to this little commune called “Creux-de-Genthod”. I stumbled upon a park right next to Lake Geneva, and that was when I saw the beautiful and breath-taking views of the crystal clear lake along with the picturesque mountains.

My running adventures only continued from there.

My first trip out of Switzerland was to Salzburg, Austria, I ran along the Salzach River before the sun had even risen and the only people I saw included another runner and a woman walking her dogs.

I ran my way through Vienna, along the beaches in Barcelona, the suburbs of Brussels, the town of Weesp, and the parks of London.

There were times where I had felt unsafe and unsure of whether to not I should go on a run. I always ran in the mornings, and if I was traveling with other people I did my best to make sure I ran before they woke up. But the number of times I had felt unsafe while on a run during my weekend travels was equivalent to, if not less, the number of times I felt unsafe while running near my university back home. Overall, I felt that running helped me explore parts of cities that I would have never expected to see. I even met a girl in my program who was a cross country runner back at her university in the states, and we still keep in touch to this day.

Overall, my running adventures had taught me a lot about myself. I became more confident in my navigation skills, that I am definitely a morning person and that will probably never change, and that a little spontaneity never killed anybody.

More: Study Abroad: Expectations Vs. Reality

My overall takeaway message is that studying abroad is what you want it to be. Am I saying that you have to pick up running in order to have a memorable abroad experience?

Absolutely not.

But what I want college students who are on the fence about studying abroad, or think that studying abroad is all about partying in another country, is that study abroad experience can be very different from your expectations. If you want to attend a poetry slam at a cafe in Lisbon instead of going to a bar, or go on a bike tour of Amsterdam while some of your friends want to visit a museum, then do it. Will everything always go according to plan? Probably not. But, your time abroad is valuable and you deserve to spend enjoy every moment you can.

Kayla Zhang

Saint Louis University | 1 story

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