In the past I have talked about opportunities and how a lot of the differences between people have to do with their unique ability to recognize those contingencies as they appear, and seize them.
As an upperclassman in college, I realized that time was slipping by quickly. I knew I was at a unique stage in my life, and the great leap to adulthood was coming closer. So far, I was content with finding competitive outlets, new hobbies, friends, and teachers, but I also realized there were more opportunities. I was interested in studying abroad for a semester.
Choosing To Travel ///
As a natural bodybuilder, someone who covets the security of having my own place to work out, to eat correctly, and to maintain my personal routine, the idea of living in another country for four months was somewhat unnerving. I decided to explore some of the common concerns many fitness enthusiasts have on the issue.
I became convinced when I asked some veteran competitors what they would change about their experiences in college. I was shocked to hear that many of them wanted to study abroad in college but never made the commitment because they told themselves it would "just happen someday".
Of course it never did, and they expressed their regret. One guy in particular justified his decision and told me, "Well, there are no gyms in Europe, and the food is horrible!" I decided this was his opinion, and he was probably correct to some degree, but I needed to hear more.
One day my training partner and I were finishing up a workout, and we asked one another whether or not we had thought about studying abroad. We both expressed our apprehensions about maintaining the lifestyle in a place so different from the United States, but we also considered the incredible perspective we would gain from stepping outside our comfort zones in another country.
Our decision was ultimately dominated by the latter, in that anything we would sacrifice in the gym or kitchen would be minuscule compared to the potential gains (no pun intended) we would obtain by studying overseas.
Based on this distinction, I did not think it was critical to find a congenial roommate or travel partner, but I did anyway. Sean O'Bryan is also a natural bodybuilder, and became an incredible asset in helping me to maintain focus while still maximizing the opportunity of a lifetime.
Advice From A Pro ///
If you are still not convinced by my personal story, I asked a well respected IFBB Pro what his views are on the subject of studying abroad as a bodybuilder. 2009 New York Pro Champion Evan Centopani studied in Florence, Italy while in college and disclosed some information that really hit home for me when he said:
"I went back and forth about whether or not to go to Italy and honestly bro, it is one of the best things I have ever done if not the best. You will come back from it (if you ever come back) a better person having experienced another culture. Europe in general is incredible.
If you take one piece of advice from me, listen when I tell you to go. Bring as much money as you can and travel as much as humanly possible, it is worth every penny. It's one of the only things I would even consider being in debt for.
The food is incredible all over Europe, and the lifestyle is second to none, especially for a bodybuilder. I don't think I ever slept as much as I did in Italy or ate as well. Food and sleep, what more can you ask for. Oh yeah, you mentioned the girls are okay too huh? I'm sure you heard right.
The one (and probably only) drawback is that finding a good gym over there will probably be next to impossible. You'll find one but it won't be what you're used to at home. But I'm sure you'll be able to make do. Trust me, bodybuilding isn't going anywhere. Don't give it another thought. Go go go! Just go."
Based on my experiences and the research I've done, I couldn't agree more with Evan. As athletes looking to make progress and do anything we possibly can to avoid digression, living abroad does pose a few problems.
From the general issues such as finances, homesickness, and culture shock to the more distinct concerns we have like the lack of a proper gym, solid nutrition, and overall lifestyle maintenance, it is apparent that these issues need to be addressed in order to make the right decisions. Worried about money? Don't be!
Making The Decision ///
One of the more general concerns that often come up is monetary issues. To give you some perspective, the total amount of money I spent during the four months of continuous travel was somewhere around nine-thousand dollars. This included airfare to many different countries, hotel stays, daily meals, groceries, lots of clothes, motorcycle rentals, souvenirs, and everything else I felt I needed to purchase.
If I was taking this trip after college by myself, the same exact adventure would easily end up being triple the cost. Seeing the world during college is the most economically feasible time possible because your school program will have helped substantially with extra costs.
There are a few things that you can do to get as much as you can out the whole experience while sacrificing the least amount of cash.
- Talk to your international program about scholarships. Many schools offer a great deal of financial aid for students looking to study abroad.
- Stay in cheap hostels. When searching for a place to stay, don't get seduced by anything fancy by way of lodging. You will not be spending any time in the room anyway!
- Learn to bargain. This can be hard to master at first, but understand that a lot of places don't have set prices like we do here in the United States, do your best to get a deal!
- Airfare and train tickets are relatively cheap. Make sure to search online for the best ticket prices. Most hostels have deals for travel that can get you the best bang for your buck.
If money is a concern, then simply plan accordingly, figure out how to make the most with what you have, and look at the whole ordeal as an investment in learning.
You will not remember any of the small financial distresses down the road, but I guarantee you'll always remember the incredible moments you had with friends and locals.
Finding A Place To Work Out ///
Depending on where you're staying, it can be a burden to find a well equipped gym. The best thing you can do is search the area you'll be living in extensively before you leave in order to minimize any additional stress.
You'll have to face the fact that most of the world simply does not occupy the same love for power racks and barbells that we do here in the States.
It can be hard to adjust to at first, but chances are you will be able to find some type of standard place that will at least help you maintain what you have.
After this has been established, it would be wise to come up with a training strategy that will correspond to your travels and goals. It will be very difficult to adhere to a comprehensive, high-frequency routine while studying abroad, so I recommend formatting your workouts a little differently to utilize your time most effectively.
- Decide what you need to improve. Your attention to complete physical progress may be limited, so this can be the perfect time to really focus on a weak area of your physique.
- Your schedule can vary substantially, so make sure and focus only on compound movements to take complete advantage of your time in the gym.
- Keep within the 4-8 rep range for most exercises to ensure you're going heavy enough. You're body needs a reason to keep the muscle you've already earned!
- Warm up! I can't emphasize this enough. There will probably be times when you've had a layoff and can't wait to get back in the gym... but don't rush it! Start out slow and always maintain correct form. (I tore a rotator cuff rushing through weighted dips, don't make the same mistake!)
Even though you're studying abroad, and not training abroad, it would be foolish to recommend that you don't worry about working out. In fact, I think it should be one of the very first things you research before arriving to your intended destination.
Just don't let it control your decisions, or take priority over any other unique experience you come across. If you happen to miss a workout, that's okay! Adjust your plan and keep moving forward.
Sean Harley's Travel Fitness Tip
Watch The Video - 00:27
What About Food? ///
One of the best parts about living in another country is becoming acclimated to the local cuisine. This will probably not help you in your fitness endeavors, however, it is an integral part of the study abroad experience.
Most countries' markets carry organic local produce, meats, dairy (the real stuff), and various specifics depending on your locale. This is fine when you're studying during the week, but what about venturing off to other lands? Here are a few ways I got around in the deserts, cathedrals, piazzas, museums, and tenacious street vendors.
Invest In Some Whey Protein: Finding a decent supplement shop is not for the meek; it can cost you an arm and a leg. The same can hold true for online orders; customs can pose a significant problem. Instead, place an order of everything you need and pack an extra suitcase before you leave the States.
Carry Some Quick Oats And Nuts: Any time you need to get a meal in, mix up some instant oats and throw some nuts in with your whey. The instant oats float in the water and they're much easier to drink than the old fashioned kind. You can get oats or nuts almost anywhere!
Pack Light When Going On Trips: Wear your heavy clothes on the plane and pack your food. You can always take off layers... you can't always get the food you need!
This can be the most critical aspect of maintaining your physique when traveling abroad. I've never been so thankful for whey protein than when I was trekking through the streets of Rome or sleeping in the Sahara desert. Doing these little things will give you peace of mind and make life much easier when sitting down for a whole food meal is impossible.
Once again though, in the grand scheme of things, you will not regret missing a meal or two. The people you'll meet, places you'll see, and events you'll witness will leave much more of a lasting effect on your conscience. So don't stress! Cortisol doesn't help anyone.
Making the decision to study abroad as a natural bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast can be a very hard decision at first. I almost didn't go because of many of the dilemmas I discussed above, which is absolutely crazy when I think about it now. Looking back on the whole ordeal, I can honestly say it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself.
Sharing the same fears and uncommon adventures with people is priceless and will bring you closer together. I met many people I will be friends with forever because of the times we shared in these far away places.
Bodybuilding isn't going anywhere, but the opportunity to maximize your college experiences is departing fast. Make the jump! You will not regret it.