Greetings everyone and welcome to my blog for this amazing year as a Victory Scholar with Sport Changes Life! I want to start off with a huge thank you to everyone involved in getting me here, from the basketball community at Holy Cross, my family and friends, and of course to Sport Changes Life and the Rory Foundation. We’re just about two weeks in to our time here across the pond and the experience has been great so far – a week and a half of introductory training and coaching in Belfast with the entire group of scholars, and a couple of days at our respective cities meeting our great site directors, coaches, and kids that we’ll be spending the next 10 months with.
While my journey here has been exciting, fulfilling, and already stocked with great memories, it has definitely not proceeded without healthy doses of uncertainty and apprehension at each stage. From the moment I applied to Sport Changes Life back in February of senior year, my hopes for a year of adventure, community service, and self-discovery abroad were met with an overwhelming sense of ambiguity. Would I get too home-sick? Would I enjoy my time in Ireland for a whole year? Would I be an effective coach and mentor? And most prominently – would I even get into the program? With increasing questions from fellow seniors with jobs lined up already, professors, and family members with the jarring phrase “what are you doing after graduation?”, the longing for a concrete sense of direction only intensified.
However, on a beautiful day I will always remember, the questions racking my brain were finally answered. In a seemingly perfect turn of events, while watching the Holy Cross baseball team win the Patriot League Championship against Bucknell AND eating Chick-Fil-A (my favorite fast food – a life-changing must for anyone who hasn’t had it) on Saturday, May 20th, I got the confirmation email that I had been accepted as a Victory Scholar. Overwhelmed by excitement for the baseball team getting the PLC and for this coming year in Ireland, the happy tears were flowing.
Throughout the fast next three months of summer, my “can’t wait” vibes surrounding being a Victory Scholar were naturally balanced with their own apprehensive counterparts. The Ganser family made-up word “upsited” (a mix of excitement and nerves) was taking on a whole new meaning for me. The commotion of packing, figuring out which precious pairs of shoes and sweatshirts I would have to part with (thanks Katie, Chris, Alyssa, and Jacqui ;)), and of course saying goodbye to all of my loved ones, was a lot to grapple with. After a great day with the family seeing a musical and getting dinner in NYC (thanks Mom and Dad), all of the frantic, excited, and nervous feelings culminated at the SCL luncheon – it was finally time for the adventure to begin!
Despite my uncertainty, and now after spending just two short weeks on the beautiful island of Ireland, I’ve quickly realized that it’s that discomfort and doubt – recognizing it and tackling it – that has and will continue to lead to the most meaningful experiences throughout my year. Primarily, my concerns at the beginning were met by a welcoming SCL family with open arms – extremely supportive, friendly, and inspiring SCL staff, in addition to 23 other scholars going through the exact same thing. The experience of getting (and sometimes being tossed) out of my comfort zone with these people has made me realize the value of embracing the ambiguity.
My understanding of this was solidified during our first eHOOPS session at the University of Ulster Jordanstown. Chatting with an 18-year-old kid while throwing around a basketball, he shared with me that he had been in and out of group homes throughout his childhood in Belfast. After pointing out how he had always looked up to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I asked if he had any other role models or people of influence in his life. He promptly answered, explaining that aside from The Rock, he really only had himself to trust and “look up to” in a way. From a young kid having such a tough upbringing so far, his conviction and faith in himself was both impressive and inspiring. Though my own concerns and worries paled in comparison to his, it was his self-assurance in the face of his adversity that eased any insecurities I was experiencing and confirmed that I was where I belonged – in the ideal environment SCL has created where we can both help and learn from young people.
So ultimately, despite only being here for a short time, I’ve already learned so much. From asking everyone speaking with an Irish accent to repeat/spell what they’re saying maybe 3-4 times (and sometimes just smiling and nodding), making green teas with milk for my coach and I only to realize that only black or “regular” tea goes with milk (sorry Francis), going to the wrong side of the car, to getting lost multiple times already, I’ve dealt with quite a bit of ambivalence. Going through, and mostly laughing through, these trials and tribulations have been experiences of growth that I’m sure will continue throughout my entire year, and I’m so excited and grateful that it is only the beginning!