Staying Fit While Studying Abroad
When I was about to leave for my study abroad semester, I was constantly bombarded by the advice from people who studied abroad before me. When I told people that I was going to be living in Prague, Czech Republic for the next four months, I was consistently told these two things: Beer is cheaper than water, and the main staple foods are meat and potatoes. While these are two parts of the Czech Culture that I really enjoyed, I was constantly reminded by my college soccer coach that I would be held to the same fitness standards of all of my teammates who were running sprints and playing scrimmages back in upstate New York.
During my four months in Prague, I was lucky enough to travel to 14 different countries. I was able to see the volcanic landscapes of Iceland, have a pint of Guinness in the boisterous pubs in Galway, Ireland, and eat my way through Spain. My environment was constantly changing, but I wondered if I could maintain an acceptable level of fitness. As I traveled to different countries, I developed a routine of going on runs at least once, to experience what the environment was like while my endorphins were pumping. Initially, this seemed like a chore, it soon became one of my favorite parts of all of my trips. For me, exercise gives me a new perspective for the countries that had previously been a mystery, it gives me a clear head to face changing environments that were vastly different from my own. One of my favorite byproducts of staying fit, is a very fast metabolism that gives me the ability to have endlessly experience all of the great foods that different countries have to offer.
Each country that I went to was very different from the last. They each have something to offer. Whether it is beautiful scenery to run around, mountains to hike, soccer fields to play on, parkour playgrounds (in Copenhagen), or many others, there is both a personal and a cultural benefit for seeking out those opportunities. Throughout my adventures, I have played soccer with locals in Bhutan, ran along the Cliffs of Moher, climbed the never ending labyrinth of stairs found on the Amalfi Coast, ran along the canals in Amsterdam, played soccer in the Danish FA Cup in Copenhagen, and many others. While exercise has always been kind of an obsession for me, I believe that anyone can understand the peace and serenity that is achieved when your body feels healthy. When you exercise, you are challenged both mentally and physically. Especially in a foreign country, you must be aware of your environment, and hold a general knowledge for where you are so you do not get too lost. However, with this same caution is also where you find some of the most excitement.
Staying fit can give you time for much needed alone time and self evaluation. It can also provide you with a great experience for implanting yourself amongst the local culture. The great thing about pickup sports, is there is almost always a shortage of players. The more players you have, the more competitive the sport gets. You join people who might not speak or understand one word you are saying, but you get to communicate through sport. It is amazing how easily you can make friends through a common joy of kicking a ball around, or shooting some baskets. Group dynamics will begin to form, leaders will emerge, and before you know it, you will have a bond with people whom you were complete strangers with before.
If you are lucky enough to live in a particular location for long enough, I always suggest checking out a local gym. I have found that gyms around the world will have their own cultures and habits, that can be very interesting to observe. Also, the more that you go to the gym, you begin to feel more like a local. You will see many of the same people, and you can develop a relationship with them. There are many different types of gym as well, you can find boxing gyms, gymnastics gyms, and many others. This can give you the experience of both exercising, as well as learning new skills. Most gyms also have one-time prices for people who do not want to commit to a full membership, and many of them have discounts for students as well!
Here are a few of my favorite places that I went to abroad:
1.Letna Park in Prague- you will find running trails, stair climbs, wide open land, and a very active environment of people exercising and enjoying nature.
2.Westerpark in Amsterdam- beautiful park with biking and running trails, beautiful gardens and scenery, and so many people exercising, that it is not hard to gain motivation.
3.Biking around Munich- rent a bike in Munich and enjoy on of the most beautiful cities that I have ever been to. Bike through the english gardens, watch the river surfers, and the rest of the city is very accessible by bike.
4.Exercising in the parks in Copenhagen- some of the most versatile parks I have ever seen. They have park obstacles, basketball hoops, soccer goals, skating tracks, basically anything you need for recreation.
5. Budapest- running up Gellert park to the citadel at the top. Once at the top you can see a great view of Buda and Pest, and you will understand why people call this one of the most amazing cities.
6.Barcelona- Hike to the very top of the hill behind Parc Guell, you will experience a 360 degree view of one of my favorite cities.
There are many more, and I look forward to sharing more in articles to come. Let me know if you have any suggestions to share!