Note: Hope College is celebrating NCAA Division III Week through April 9. Among our scheduled activities, we will highlight the impact Hope College and the Division III academic and athletic balance is making on athletes from five of our 22 athletics teams. Tomorrow, look for a profile of social work major and track & field athlete Brandon Wolliston.
By Alan Babbitt
A desire to explore and learn drew lacrosse teammates Amie Hixon, Alexandria Watts and Alexandra Webb to study abroad experiences through Hope College. Two of them traveled to Iceland for three months. The other ventured to Chile for four months.
Upon their return, all three expressed gratitude for the people they met, what they learned about their host countries, the world and themselves, and the opportunity to step away from offseason training for their sport without consequence.
They said they are more culturally literate because they were encouraged to and did study abroad.
"That's the reason I came to Hope College," said Webb, pictured at right, a senior midfielder from Woodland Hills, California (Calabasas HS) who is majoring in sociology and minoring in environmental studies. "I knew Hope would allow me to do things like be in orchestra, play a sport and maybe go abroad. Hope would not only give me the ability to do that, and also encourage me to do that.
"Going abroad, I had no question that I was going to come back, play lacrosse and be committed to the team."
Webb joined Watts in Solheimer, Iceland, from September through November where the pair studied living sustainability and what that meant in a community atmosphere.
They stayed in an eco-village with three other students, their professor and 100 Icelandic workers and residents. They studied ways to reduce carbon footprints while working in greenhouses, kitchens and workshops and helping residents make products to sell.
Watts, a senior goalie from Union, Michigan (Edwardsburg), is majoring in geology and minoring in environmental studies.
The time in Iceland built self-independence and provided confidence to go into different cultures and not only survive, but thrive, Watts said. Studying abroad also provided a different and informative view of the rest of the world, Watts added.
"The United States doesn't have all the right answers. There are a lot of other ideas out there," Watts said. "It just broadened my view of what is actually out there. I never lived outside of the States until that semester. That was a big leap jumping into a new culture, not being able to speak the language.
"I'm a different person now. I can participate in that global language. Things that happen in the United States do impact other parts of the world and vice versa."
Spending a semester in Iceland also bolstered Watts' Christian faith.
"My faith really grew when I was there," Watts said. "It was more me determining what was important and my faith really became my own. It was not that I went to church with my family and was surrounded by faith on campus all the time. I had to go out and make my own decisions."
Hixon, a junior defender from Eagle, Colorado (Vail Christian), went to South America for her study abroad experience. She's pursuing a double major in Spanish and mathematics and minor in accounting.
Hixon started in Santiago, Chile's capital and largest city with limited Spanish-speaking abilities. She admitted she was terrified.
Four months later, she completed a five-day, solo backpack trip through the desert of northern Chile.
"The main thing I drew out of it was how capable we are as people and how we underestimate our ability to do things," Hixon said. "I'm from a small northern town in Colorado, absolutely not a six-million person city that I was in (in Santiago). I spoke very minimal Spanish, not even conversational. I followed my host mom through the supermarket because I didn't know what to do. She asked me to stay in the car. I said 'Yes!' then I got out and followed her because I had no idea what she said.
"The difference between that and finding my way through a foreign desert while backpacking on a bike by myself was incredible. Being able to communicate with everyone and having no doubts I would be OK regardless of the circumstances was amazing. I learned so much about myself.
The end result, Hixon added, was so much greater than she expected to receive.
"It gave me so much more confidence about how I am as a person," she said. "It showed we are so much capable than we give ourselves credit for."
Like Watts and Webb, Hixon also carries a passion for lacrosse. She has been a team captain the past two seasons.
Hixon wondered briefly if her time away from her lacrosse teammates would be a hindrance. Her doubts quickly faded when she returned from Chile.
"Everyone was so generally OK with the fact that everyone was involved with different things," Hixon said. "It was awesome to come back to such an accepting environment. Coming back reassured me so many things about the team and the school.
"Hope is so willing to adapt for you on behalf of the things you want to do, and work with you for those things."