How basketball shaped my study-abroad experience
As the team captain of the Cambridge Blues Basketball Club pulled up to the rendezvous point in the heart of Cambridge, I and three other 2-meter gentlemen watched the cheeky fellow, grin in tow, pull up and declare: “All that was left boys. Hop in.” I was fortunate enough to play for the Cambridge Blues Basketball Club during my full year abroad at King’s College, Cambridge University, and the memory of that baby blue Fiat being pushed to its physical limits is something that I will cherish forever. The only thing missing from the car was a big red nose and a flower that squirted Lucozade (we had the comically large shoes, after all).
Of course, we were not strangers to less than favorable conditions; we were playing basketball in England, after all. When the local gym had no reasonable time slots available for us to practice the day before games, we managed to snag the elusive 7 a.m. slot and practice under the lullaby of Jay-Z. And another time, a horse and carriage were trotting peacefully on the highway, taking up both lanes while we were stuck behind them trying to get to a game on time. I should also mention that our coach was a world-renowned physicist who wasn’t always able to attend our games.
We were a group that came together to play our passion, and we loved every moment of it. We also met off the court and brought together the different cultures represented on the team. When we had a pasta party before the game, we called in our resident Italian to make us his signature meat sauce. When I was called a “wanker” during one of our games, I consulted the Englishman on the team to translate. When we didn’t need to hear about the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl last year, the Seattle native on the team made sure we were well informed.
We won a lot of games and lost a few as well, but those moments almost seemed secondary. What we really looked forward to was a night at the Hawks’ Club, enjoying a post-game meal unlike any other. The Hawks’ Club, exclusive to varsity athletes, was where hearty meals were served to the heartiest of Cambridge students. A favorite of the team was the farm burger: a grilled chicken breast with a burger patty, an egg, and bacon. In between stuffing our faces in the historic living hall, we would be interacting with the rest of the athletes around Cambridge, asking them what they’d done earlier to warrant their meal. We could have fun anywhere, but somehow we always knew we’d be meeting at the Hawks’ Club at some point.
There’s plenty of opportunity for grandeur when traveling abroad. I was able to go to one of the best parties in the entire world, the St. John’s May Ball, listen to the King’s College choir, interview for a job in London, gaze on the lights of Paris, eat chestnuts in Nuremburg — you name it. But while those things are nice, they’re not what I keep going back to. I remember lifting in the weight room with my buddy and accidentally tipping over the water cooler. It is the little moments that make studying abroad more than tourism. When I wear my Blue jacket, an award given to me for performing at the highest level for the university, I don’t think of the towering spires of Cambridge against a blue sky. What I do think of, though, is a bunch of clowns stuffed into a blue Fiat, driving into London to throw a ball through a hoop.