What’s it like being a Division 1 Varsity Athlete abroad?

I’ve been asked this question a fair amount during my time in Denmark. For those who haven’t read my introductory post, I’m a member of Harvard’s Varsity Lightweight Men’s Rowing team, and have studied abroad at DIS twice (Fall 2019, and now, Summer 2021). My training schedule back home is a fairly serious time commitment, regularly taking up +20hrs per week outside of classes and extracurriculars.

What, then, is life like for a Division 1 athlete while studying abroad at DIS? I won’t try to speak directly to other sports besides rowing, as they are out of my realm of expertise. However, I believe that my experience training for rowing abroad can help provide general insight into what life as a Division 1 Student-Athlete is like while at DIS! Let me start from the beginning:

What led you to study abroad as a Student Athlete?

Back in the Spring 2019, I was experiencing pretty serious burnout between my rowing training and academics. I’m incredibly fortunate that my coaches saw me struggling and encouraged me to take a breather and reset by going abroad for a semester. Before I left for Denmark in the Fall of 2019, I did some research into rowing clubs around Copenhagen. I was pleasantly surprised when I found a number of rowing clubs in and around Copenhagen, each with student rowing programs (many of them taught in English)! I reached out to coaches at several of the various programs before ultimately joining Danske Studenters Roklub (DSR).

Lokaler og lokaliteter - Danske Studenters Roklub
Danske Studenters Roklub (DSR)

What did/does your training look like while abroad?

Fall 2019: I joined a university rowing program at DSR for students from various schools around the city. I met a number of students, locals, as well as other DIS students who, like me, were looking to keep up their rowing fitness while abroad! The program was pretty low stress, with members showing up whenever they did not have any class conflicts. As long as people brought good energy when they showed up, everyone was happy! I also joined a local gym (which has student discounts!) in case I wanted to work out more flexibly on my own time. I probably trained an average of six times per week for approximately two hours at a time. At this time, I wasn’t looking to train for peak fitness – I was training to stay fit and maintain a balanced lifestyle that would enable me to make the most of my time abroad!

Summer 2021: I’ve re-joined DSR, and am having a blast training at the club. My training schedule is much more rigorous this semester, as I’m gearing up for my Senior Season. I’m currently following a training plan from my home team and training by myself – running 10-12 miles around the city in the morning, and spending approximately two hours on rowing machines in the afternoon (about 4 hours per day, six days a week). Despite this intense schedule, I’ve still been able to enjoy my classes, Study Tours, and time with friends around the city. I’ve found that, particularly during the Summer Sessions, DIS’s flexible class schedule is great at giving you time to pursue passions, hobbies, and spend time with friends. I currently am working on joining a program to row on the water with DSR’s Elite team, with the goal of trying to qualify for Henley Royal Regatta!

What are your takeaways on studying abroad as an elite athlete?

The biggest takeaway from my experience training abroad is that it is a self-motivated endeavor, and that you can get as much (or as little) out of it as you want to. Because you are away from your home institution, teammates and coaches, it’s up to you to dedicate your time and energy to training/practice as you please.

Ultimately, what matters most is that your experience training and practicing abroad enriches your total study abroad experience. You can always train as much as you want to when you’re at home, but it’s not every day you can go for a run around the Havneringen, or train alongside some members of Denmark’s National Rowing team. Simultaneously, it’s not every day you get the opportunity to meet your friends for a swim at Islands Brygge or for some casual board games at Bastard Café. In my experience, it’s much easier to achieve a little bit of that illusive work-life balance as a D1 athlete abroad than back home!

To any student athletes considering study abroad at DIS:

The most important piece of advice I can give to anybody looking to keep up their training while abroad is to research teams to join whose goals align with yours, and to arrive in Denmark with a plan! If you are debating whether or not you should study abroad and are worried about losing fitness, technical skill, etc., have no fear – there is a community for all sports at any level of commitment here in Copenhagen. DIS provides you with the flexibility and support to train as much as you please while pursuing your field of study and exploring Copenhagen with the new friends you’ll make abroad. Furthermore, if you find yourself looking for a refresher after feeling worn out at home, going abroad and joining a new team can be a great way to rekindle your relationship and enjoyment with your sport of choice, leaving you full of energy and excited to return to your home team!

In my experience, joining a team and training while abroad has helped me grow both as an individual and an athlete in ways I would not have been able to had I stayed exclusively at my home institution. Training abroad has not only made me a stronger athlete physically, but more crucially, it’s made me a stronger athlete mentally. I’m beyond excited to bring my experiences back with me to my home team for our 2021-2022 campaign.

Thanks for reading, and god træning!

Sean

Study Abroad This Summer with DIS:

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