SE: Trip Abroad Changes Student-Athletes’ Perspective

Last month, 16 Wildcat student-athletes had the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and step into an adventure unlike anything they had experienced before.   

Partnering with Courts for Kids, the group of student-athletes dubbed “Cats Across Continents” spent nine days living in Linea, Vieja, Costa Rica, with the mission to build a multi-purpose court for the community while diving deep into the local culture.

“Overall the trip was great,” said Cori Pinkett, K-State’s director of student-athlete development and the leader of this year’s trip. “It was so cool to see how excited the community was to have us there. They really welcomed us in and treated us as a part of the community. It was really, really neat how much we were ingrained in the community and the culture of the community.”

Housed in the community’s local church during their time in Linea, Vieja, the K-State student-athletes were completely immersed in the Costa Rican culture from the moment they arrived to the moment they left. They slept on mattress pads laid on the church’s floor and surrounded by mosquito netting, had no indoor plumbing and no cell phone service.

“This was my first time out of the (United States),” explained senior football defensive back Dante Barnett after returning from the trip. “I enjoyed learning about another culture. Here in America, we only see things like that on TV, but actually going out, seeing another culture and being in it, it was a great experience.”

The community was quick to embrace the K-Staters. On the first night of the trip, the town hosted an evening of traditional dance and games. After learning numerous Costa Rican dances, the Wildcats partook in some friendly competitions. From sack races to juggling contests to games on horseback, the student-athletes spent their first day in Costa Rica competing on entirely new playing fields.

“We ended the night all dancing together,” said Pinkett. “We did a few of their cultural dances, they taught us some moves, and it was pretty fun. It was a great way to start the week. It really broke the ice and get everyone comfortable.”

The following morning, the group woke up bright and early to begin working on the court. Despite rainy conditions most days, the student-athletes lifted, dug, mixed and poured concrete, and, by the end of the week, the community of Linea, Vieja, had a special, new place to gather and play.

“We had people shoveling, people getting water and people carrying the cement bags, then we had to go in and use the concrete maker too,” said women’s soccer goalkeeper Miranda Larkin. “There was a pile of gravel, a pile of dirt and bags of cement. We were told how to do it – two buckets of dirt, two buckets of gravel, then the cement and the water, then you just keep going. We really got the process down by the end of the week.”

Throughout the week, the student-athletes were working on the court on their own as the community’s children were in school and men were working. However, by the time the weekend rolled around, they had a large group of locals join them ready to help get the job done.

“The work was really hard,” continued Larkin. “We knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t realize how sore I’d be. We were getting nervous that we may not have the time to finish it, but then, toward the end of our trip, the community came in and they really helped us finish the entire thing.”

On the final day of building, when the new court was done and ready to go, everyone gathered for a special celebration to dedicate the new court to the community.

“The day the court opened, we had about a two-hour break between finishing the final preparations and the ceremony, so we taught them a few of our popular dances,” said Pinkett. “Then we taught them the Wabash, and we taught them the KSU chant too. At the end of the day, we were able to do them all together. It was awesome.”

Overall, the experience was life changing for all those involved and left many eager to serve again.

“Not only did I make new friends in Costa Rica, but I formed some great friendships with the K-State athletes from other sports. Working together toward a common goal brought us close together,” said women’s basketball guard Shaelyn Martin. “Also, it was very humbling to be part of such a gracious set of people. They live a very basic life but were so happy to share what they had with us. Overall, it taught me to value what I have and served to remind me of how lucky I am. It was an unforgettable experience, and I hope to participate in something like it again.”

Final Thoughts
According to Pinkett, there were three key reoccurring themes she observed during the trip, which she shared with the student-athletes following the trip:

“First off, I think they learned empathy. I say that because there were a few people who mentioned when we were doing our final debrief that it was going to be difficult to come back knowing that our community in Linea is living the way they are. They wanted to do so much to help and they realized how spoiled we are as Americans and realized everything we take for granted.

“They learned the value of stepping out of their comfort zone and what could happen when you’re willing to do that. Because had they not been willing to do that, the trip would not have been as successful and impactful as it was.

“Finally, because they weren’t able to get on their phone and check Facebook or get on their phone and text, we had some beautiful conversations. As a result, they were able to build some really great friendships.

“We had 20 people who definitely returned back to the U.S. much different than how they left.”

Cats Across Continents Student-Athletes
Iva Bago, women’s tennis
Dante Barnett, football
Livia Cirmu, women’s tennis
Megan Deines, women’s basketball
Noelle Dykmann, women’s rowing
Kennedy Felice, women’s rowing
Madi Haney, women’s rowing
Nicholle Hatton, equestrian
Paige Kemper, equestrian
Gretchen Koenen, equestrian
Miranda Larkin, women’s soccer
Shaelyn Martin, women’s basketball
Erin Smith, women’s track and field
Dane Steen, men’s track and field
Steven West, football
Tyler White, football