The Trip of a Lifetime

By Amy Altig, Assistant Coach, Penn State University  @PennStateWLAX

Foreign trips for some are all in a day’s work, for others it’s an unthinkable challenge, but for head coach Missy Doherty it was an opportunity to provide a group of young women with the experience of a lifetime in Amsterdam and Greece. It was an experience full of lessons about life, history, culture, and patience. Would I recommend taking your team on a foreign trip?  You better believe it!

Penn State and the Dutch National Team. Photo courtesy of the author.
   Penn State and the Dutch National Team. Photo courtesy of the author.

Life lessons when traveling abroad: traveling with a group of 30 is like herding cats; traveling with a group of 30 young women dressed to the nines will attract immense attention; you never come close to wearing all the clothes you packed in your bag that just barely made the weight limit; and last but not least, the American footprint is heavily rooted all over the world.

Amsterdam is home to more than 1,200 bridges and over 60 miles of canals, not to mention the “Red Light District” and stroopwaffels. We toured the city by boat and by foot and found elegance in the way the houses were built to lean forward to allow for furniture to be easily lifted to the higher levels. Learning to navigate the streets was nearly impossible as you were either on the actual road or the “bike super highway.” I’ve honestly never seen more bikes in my entire life!  The highlight of Amsterdam was getting to tour the Anne Frank house where her family hid during World War 2. People wait in line for hours to get a glimpse of the life that Anne lived and wrote about in her diary, a true experience in history you can’t get anywhere else. After a full day of touring it was time to take on the Netherlands National Team, the highly anticipated game (and only game) of the trip. They were gracious competitors and our players had a blast on and off the field with them. Following the game, we had a barbeque with the team and our players had a chance to learn what it’s like to attend University outside of the US and how our culture very much differs from that of the Dutch. It was a day full of jam-packed lessons: always be alert for bikes, Anne Frank was a remarkable young woman full of strength and perseverance, and you can leave a lasting impression by your play and sportsmanship with a player halfway around the world.

Athens, Greece is one of the oldest cities in Europe, the birthplace of democracy, site of the first Olympic games, and neighbor to the island of Mykonos, my new favorite place. Greek mythology was something we all learned at some point in our educational careers. We may not remember which God represented what, but we do recall places like the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the different Temples of the Gods. It’s hard to put into words the feelings you experience when walking through some of the oldest historical sites in the world. The masterful architecture and design of the statues and Temples have literally lasted the test of time. It was truly an experience of a lifetime to trek through the sites of the Gods and the original meeting place of the world’s greatest athletes. The Greece stop was more than just a walk through history, it was a chance to visit with the Special Olympians and teach them about the sport of lacrosse, relax in the Greek Isles, and indulge in some delicious Greek cuisine. Our stop at the Special Olympics facility was the beginning of new friendships, an introduction to a foreign sport, and a friendly game of soccer versus the reigning Special Olympics Champions.

Penn State at the Parthenon. Photo courtesy of the author.
   Penn State at the Parthenon. Photo courtesy of the author.

Relaxation came in the form of breathtakingly blue water and white rocky beaches on the island of Mykonos. Two wonderful days spent on the beaches lounging, snorkeling, tubing, and dodging the occasional bathing suit optional beachgoer. The evenings were full of delicious traditional Greek food; we simply could not get enough of the Greek salads, fresh feta cheese, and crowd-pleasing tzakiki sauce. We did not go home hungry that’s for sure!  The food was plentiful and so was the shopping. The players experienced “Little Venice” in Mykonos and all of its beautiful shops with items specific to the island. The shopping didn’t stop there – once we returned to Athens we took in the sights and sounds of “The Plaka” the old historical neighborhood of Athens. After a long ten days of trekking around Amsterdam and Greece it was finally time to return to reality.

When considering whether you should take your team on a trip, take some time to think about what the places have to offer your players as far as history and experience. Coach Doherty could not have picked two better places to expose our players to that offered a remarkable historical importance and a pure cultural experience. I will never forget walking in Anne Frank’s footsteps, teaching the Special Olympians the sport of lacrosse, visiting the site of the first Olympics and the Temples of the Gods. More importantly I will never forget the time spent with an amazing group of people after a very memorable season.

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