Since 2012, TeamNYUGlobal has been sending athletic teams across the world each summer. The NYU wrestling team made the most recent trip, traveling to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic in July.
"We discovered in our online surveys that our student-athletes were very much the NYU student, and even more connected to their academic programs, residence hall, and group of NYU friends," said Chris Bledsoe, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs/Director of Athletics. "They did as well as, and often better than, the general student, but because of their playing seasons, were not studying abroad at nearly the same rate."
"The notion was that NYU is one of the most unique universities in the world," said Janice Quinn, NYU Senior Associate Director of Athletics, who has played a major role in the program from day one. "A large percentage of our students do not spend four years on the NYU campus – they are spending a full year in countries all over the world."
The NYU Global Student Life Steering Committee was charged with creating programming to engage students in the NYU global network where they weren't otherwise doing so. "We put together our plan for a program for student-athletes to travel abroad and the committee put its stamp on it," Bledsoe stated. "We were able to go forward and say to our 16 NYU global sites, 'Partner with us!' They've been great in doing so."
The core of the program is evident in the full name, which is TeamNYUGlobal: Education, Service, and Sport. The team meets on campus for 10 days before the trip to practice, but not just their sport. "For every day of training, we want a commensurate day in the classroom," Quinn said. "If they practice two hours, they have two hours of language immersion. We want education since we are an educational institution. We want a true fundamental aspect of service. We want something so educational in nature."
In 2012, the men's basketball program became the first team to travel abroad as part of the program when they traveled to Italy. "Men’s basketball was the model. We created a model and said can we implement this? It was so successful that we try to emulate that every year to get that same impactful experience," Quinn remarked.
The language and cultural immersion instruction before the trip is done by an NYU faculty member who then accompanies the team on the trip. In this case, that was Core College Curriculum instructor Kurt Hollender. "We wanted them to interact with people in German at the hotel before they begin the day," Quinn stated. “'Instead of saying, "If we were in Germany, we would say this,' they are actually living it."
"We recognized that there had to be a real educational component, both intensive conversational language and cultural knowledge and awareness," Bledsoe added. "Identifying the right faculty member with Arts & Sciences is really important. They are basically living with these students and coaches for 10 days before the trip and then they are with them in the other country, conversing in the local language."
"Kurt, our professor and guide for the trip, enabled us with the language skills and cultural awareness to be able to engage in genuine interactions with some of the locals," said NYU wrestler Sean Billings, who graduated in May. "I can honestly say I've caught myself saying 'Danke schön' a couple of times since being back in the states."
"A lot of us were apprehensive about learning German in a week, but our teacher Kurt made the classes fun and we all felt like he was part of the team quickly, which helped the learning process,'" said Austin Day, who begins his junior year this fall. "There's a good amount that has stuck with me and it honestly was pretty cool to learn."
"I think the whole team was very grateful for the help of Kurt, not only in the 10 days leading up to the trip but also out in Munich," said rising junior Jacob Donato. "Whether it was helping us order food in the German language or giving us little fun facts on the side during our walking tours or sharing the memories he had in the very same spots we got to visit, Kurt added a lot of fun and knowledge to the trip."
Before the team headed to Germany rising senior John Messinger, said, "We're not just excited about going abroad and to compete and sightsee; we're also looking forward to being able to engage ourselves in the different cultures once we arrive."
Although there is competition as part of the trip, it is the service aspect that leaves the greatest impact. "In introducing the concept of service, we want to take them out of their comfort zone in unique ways," Quinn said. "We hope that as they get older, they will volunteer in a community where they can make a big difference. We are committed to the service as perhaps 99 percent involve children who may be less fortunate. At the same time, our student-athletes can relate to children in the sense that they are still kids – ‘this was me not that long ago.'”
"The student-athletes are getting to have this international experience and participate in international competition," Bledsoe commented. "It is about them and their experience... until they do the community service. That is what really moves them."
There can also be unexpected results from traveling in other countries. "Munich was one of my favorite parts of the trip, not only because of the beautiful sights and architecture but also because I felt a greater connection as we traveled through the city, " Donato commented. "My grandmother was born in a bomb shelter in Munich in 1944 so it was really cool and inspiring to see and explore more about some of my Bavarian roots."
The service aspect for the wrestling team was spending a day at a camp for refugee children. "We didn’t really know what we were getting into," said NYU Wrestling Head Coach Bruce Haberli. "We understood the concept of what we were going to do and literally what we were walking into, but it wasn't something we had experienced."
The team took to the project quickly by working and and carrying heavy items out that needed to be thrown away. "Our guys just jumped right in. Guys were fixing and repairing things," Haberli stated. "They separated to do work on their own and didn’t need to be told what to do."
The team took it upon themselves to go to the nearby Toys "'R" Us and buy toys with their own money. "We just played with the kids for hours and they couldn't get enough of it," Haberli remarked. "We had to say only 2-3 guys at a time could go to the store so that we always had plenty of guys playing with the kids. Everyone made that trip to Toys 'R' Us. We were playing every sport imaginable."
"I would say by far the most impactful days of our trip were those when we visited the concentration camp at Dachau and when we visited the refugee children," Billings said. "Both experiences allowed a lot of us to witness real struggle that we might not otherwise see in our everyday lives. It also showed us that we can make an impact in others' lives by simply having a good attitude and showing that we care."
"Spending time with the refugee children was an experience I never imagined myself having," said rising senior Nathan Pike. "The minute we walked off the bus we were greeted by two of the kids with the biggest smiles on their faces. The majority of our time was spent playing games with the kids-- whether that was soccer, ping pong, skateboarding, or jumping on the trampoline. All of it was so much fun."
"It was one of the highlights of our trip to get the opportunity to brighten the day for these young refugee children," remarked Senior Assistant Coach Corey Luce. "It was a humbling experience and one that we will never forget."
L: Corey Luce with his ping pong partner; R: Bruce Haberli talking with one of the children.
"It was great to help out with the refugees," said rising junior Ray Jazikoff. "You hear about what happens in the Middle East and in Europe all the time in the news when you're in the U.S., but to actually experience it and get to see these refugees and help out really was an amazing experience."
"It was a surreal experience. Those children are in an extremely difficult situation and to be able to see the smiles we brought to them for a few hours was priceless," Billings added. "I hope they realized the smiles they brought out in us as well."
"At the end of the day it was truly incredible to see these people so full of energy and happiness even after all they have been through," Pike commented. "I hope we were able to leave a lasting impression on them because I am certain they left a lasting impression on all of us."
"The refugee camp was also one of my favorite parts about the trip," Donato added. "It was a really humbling experience to see the smiles and joy of these kids. There were only women and children who lived at the camp so I'm sure they really appreciated all of us being there. We didn't even speak the same language, but feelings of love and joy were clearly mutual and I wish we could've stayed longer. It was just an overall great experience."
Two NYU wrestlers with refugee children. L: Jacob Donato; R: Nathan Pike
"They didn't speak our language and we didn't speak theirs, but we all knew how to play so we communicated just fine once we rolled out some balls. It was pure joy," said Day.
"It was humbling," Haberli remarked. "The guys went away thinking how good they have it. They were a little quieter than usual when we left."
The service from the TeamNYUGlobal trips continue for a full year after teams return in conjunction with the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). At every event for the next academic cycle, the team raises money on their own, one dollar at a time. In the spring, that money is sent directly to whatever camp (or camps) the team visited.
"We want to impact the camp that day and then future kids who will go to the camp," Quinn said. "It keeps it on our minds, talking about it, and raising awareness. Our student-athletes see the impact. They were there and understand what the money they send back will do. We have planted the seed for what they can do in the future."
"In addition to this being a great memory and experience for them to look back on, we hope it will spur them on to action in the future," Bledsoe said.
"This experience is going to last forever in our heads," Haberli said. "I hope I get to do something like this again."
"NYU and UAA student-athletes not only want to experience everything at a very high level, they demand it," Bledsoe concluded. "They are participating in athletics, doing community service, working part-time jobs and professional internships, doing primary academic research, and experiencing everything our cities have to offer. We do everything we can to facilitate that."
For more information on the trip and the program, visit TeamNYUGlobal Blog