Sept. 8, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina softball seniors Kaylea Snaer and Nickie Blue earned a greater appreciation of Olympic athletes and other cultures thanks to a summer study abroad trip. The duo travelled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to work the European Athletics Championships, which was a track and field Olympic qualifier.
“We worked 10 days, and all of the days were 10-hour shifts,” Snaer said. “So for people like us that never had a full-time job before, that was quite an experience. We were on our feet a lot. We made some friends with other students, and we made some Dutch friends too. I had fun learning the culture and seeing different points of view.
“The whole experience of seeing Olympians was great. I had never been out of the country, and it was just a great experience.”
“Since I’m a sport and entertainment management major, I want to go into event operations, so working the events was my favorite part,” Blue said. “I really enjoyed all of the behind-the-scenes parts of it and seeing how everything happened. It was really interesting to see how they organized all of the volunteers.”
The Gamecocks earned class credit for the trip and had to write three extended journals and a final paper about their experiences. With the European Championships taking place in early summer after the softball season was over, the duo jumped at the opportunity and packed their bags for the trip which lasted from June 28 through July 16.
“It was the last Olympic qualifier for track and field, so that was really cool,” Snaer said. “There were athletes from all over Europe.”
It definitely makes me want to travel more. We met people from Germany, France and all over the place. Everyone was so welcoming.
Their job duties weren’t always glamorous, but the two Gamecocks enjoyed their tasks.
“The first few days we were working with catering,” Blue said. “We made all the food for all of the volunteers. Kaylea and I were also very lucky in that we were able to be on the track and open the barrier for the athletes to get on the track. So we were actually rubbing elbows with these Olympic athletes. Just seeing how Olympic athletes prepare for their race or their event and how they carry themselves, was an amazing experience.”
“When we were doing catering, I think we made 1,000 lunches per day for three days, so there was a lot of teamwork involved,” Snaer said. “We’d make an assembly line and packed the bags. We also worked at a hotel. We helped check them in and met a lot of people.”
While working the European Championships, Blue and Snaer earned a greater appreciation of track and field athletes and even met up with South Carolina senior hurdlerJussi Kanervo, who is from Finland and was competing there.
“Neither one of us was that familiar with track and field before we got there,” Snaer said. “After being there, it intrigued me to watch the Olympics and see what they were doing. There were a lot of athletes that I didn’t realize were pretty famous until later. One of pole vaulters who was there is the Olympic record holder, and I didn’t know that until later when I watched the Olympics. We saw Dafne Schippers, (2016 Olympic silver medalist) who is a sprinter from the Netherlands, and every night she was there, it was sold out.”
“The atmosphere when she was running was unbelievable,” Blue added.
Being an observer also provided a classroom experience at times.
“I liked the high jump,” Snaer said. “There was a girl from Spain, and she had this long routine. Because I’m a psychology major, I was interested in seeing her mental routine, where she would lay on the track and cover her face. You could see her talking to herself and doing little things with her fingers. From the beginning, I thought she was going to do well because she knew how to control herself. So then she won, and I was really pumped.”
On their own, they enjoyed exploring local markets and restaurants.
“They have some pancake houses,” Blue said. “So I was thinking, ‘Sweet, American pancakes!’ They were more like crepes though. I really wanted to try as much Dutch food as I could, but to my surprise, they had a lot of places that had American food, Japanese food and stuff like that. But the pancake houses were definitely Dutch. The pancakes are called poffertjes, and I loved them. I really like to bake things, so I told my mom how much I loved them. When I got back she surprised me with a poffertjes cooking kit. I went through them really quick. If my teammates are nice to me, I’ll make them some.”
When they weren’t on the job, Snaer and Blue were able to get an education about their host city.
“We learned a lot about Dutch life,” Snaer said. “A lot of the Dutch people don’t approve of the Red Light District. They don’t go there. It’s a tourist attraction but not really part of their culture.
“The sun stayed up until about 10:30 at night. So we could get off at 8 p.m. and still have daylight to go do stuff. We saw windmills and a cheese factory. We did a city bike tour for two hours, too. That was an experience because they say there are more bikes than people there. The last two days, we had a chance to see the Olympic training facilities for the Netherlands. That was really cool. We also went on a canal tour.”
“The city of Amsterdam is basically a series of canals,” Blue said. “There are big poles in the ground, and the buildings are on top of them. There’s not a real foundation. The city is so old, and there is so much history. A lot of buildings look like castles. We don’t have anything like that in the United States. I really enjoyed seeing the architecture and how long the buildings have been there. It was really interesting.”
Despite not speaking Dutch, Blue and Snaer didn’t have much trouble finding their way.
“I thought we would be the typical Americans in a foreign country, but I was very surprised to learn that almost everybody spoke some English,” Blue said.
“There wasn’t anyone with whom we couldn’t communicate,” Snaer said. “We learned that a lot of people in Europe learn at least three languages when they start grade school. That was a little a humbling.”
“It definitely makes me want to travel more. We met people from Germany, France and all over the place. Everyone was so welcoming.”
Before their next trip abroad, Blue and Snaer will prepare for their senior seasons on the softball diamond next spring.
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