Why you should (coronavirus-permitting) consider a Year Abroad in 2021

They’re “fun if you’re good at them and funny if you’re awful”. This is how one UEA Year Abroad student described trying out new sports during her time studying at the Okanagan campus at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Earlier this year, the coronavirus outbreak caused thousands of UK students studying abroad to seek a swift return home to avoid being stranded in their pastures new. Having had to return in March, I expected this student to be downbeat in my interview with her, understandably upset over all of the great opportunities she had missed.

Completely the opposite, she was very keen to stress all that she had experienced during what sounded like a whirlwind 6 months. With her university organising discounted ice hockey tickets, in addition to group outings going skiing and snowboarding among other activities, she never had to travel further than an hour from campus to have fun.

Such sports are much harder to run over here, hence they tend to require further travel and cost much more to participate in; studying abroad provides the opportunity to affordably experience an entirely new sporting culture. From competitive snowshoeing and curling, to giving ice skating, tubing and even hydroflying – as pictured above – a go, this student really demonstrated the diverse range of new sporting activities available for those on a year abroad to try out.

Her favourite sport to participate in was curling, but as a spectator it was ice hockey. She gave a great account of her time at Prospera Place – the stadium of the Kelowna Rockets – where for approximately $20, she could sit on the front row, almost within touching distance of the puck. I was told of the family-oriented atmosphere, with young children being taken along by their parents to what seemed a much more polite and friendly experience than what they would encounter at many UK football grounds.

The audience was highly involved in the day, with blimp drones distributing prizes into the crowd, stewards going around with t-shirt cannons and Rocky the Raccoon (the Rockets’ mascot) greeting you with his drum. Fans were shown on the big screen and encouraged to participate in dance competitions, with music blaring through the speakers at regular intervals.

More amusingly, the owner of the dirtiest car in the parking lot received a free ticket to a nearby car wash and various audience members were encouraged to participate in a ‘best wolf noise’ competition, which the rest of the crowd voted upon during the 3 intervals after each third of play.

Also whilst she was out in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs had all of their keepers sent off in a single game, so a Zamboni driver went in goal, showing that even the players seem more light-hearted over there.

Admittedly, I went into the interview still upset that my own year abroad to America had recently been cancelled, but came out refreshed, aware of what I would have missed had it gone ahead. Hopefully, in a year’s time, I will be Stateside and the days of spectator sports will have returned and then I will be able to see James Harden’s step-back threes and Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Marys up close and personal.

In hindsight, a year abroad this year would have resulted in me living in another country, but not really experiencing it.

Now, I look forward to the future and would support my interviewee’s recommendation that trying out new sports is a “good way to make new friends”. You can have lessons if you want to try and master your new sport, but failing miserably and together or just watching the pros from the side-lines is equally as enjoyable.

If there’s anything this pandemic has reminded me of is that there is a big old world out there. It would be a mighty shame for us to not take advantage of it when it is available to us once again.

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Luke Saward

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