The University of Iowa

A beautiful struggle: how studying abroad is a little like running a half-marathon

April 10th, 2014

By Haley Church

A group of girls stand in green grass after finishing a marathon
My friends and I after the race

Being abroad has granted me umpteen chances to try new pursuits. However, that does not mean I should try all of them. I decided to sign up for a half marathon. I cannot recall why I PAID to damage my joints and take nearly all of the skin off my feet. When I signed up, I had six weeks to train for this feat. Previously, I had been able to run about 4 to 5 miles. That was a few semesters ago but I thought, “Hey, I can get back into shape again!” I would really like to say that the training was a success and I was practiced going into race day but alas that did not happen.

Although the race was a bit painful and I would have liked to finish in better time, I can say that I did run (more like shuffle) the entire 21.1 kilometers. And even though I paid to push my body to its limit, the experience was spectacular. There were runners from all over southern Africa there to compete. They came in all shapes, sizes and abilities. The race route featured a solid amount of volunteers that cheered every runner along on a course that went through parts of Gaborone I had never seen. And most importantly, I received a sweet t-shirt and medal for finishing!

A girl stretches with her feet out in front of her on the grass

Five kilometers in I felt my legs dragging. Much like those first few kilometers, when I arrived in Botswana, I spent far too much time socializing and not enough time getting over jetlag and culture shock.As I was scuttling along through the route, I couldn’t stop formulating the cheesy metaphors about how this race is like my study abroad experience. When I heard the gun fire ringing in my ears, I decided I could definitely keep up the pace I normally run a two-mile loop for the entire 13 miles. I felt strong, I felt free.

I told myself that for the rest of the race I was going to run with an experienced friend who had caught up to me and was able to run at a semi-constant pace. Over the next 5km I stabilized my breathing and almost felt like I had what they call a “runners high” going. All good things. Just like in the first few weeks studying at the University of Botswana (UB), I felt on top of it. I felt like I could breeze through the rest of the race.

Wrong. At about the 10km mark my legs decided that they could no longer keep up with my friend so she bid me adieu and they slowed down to prime shuffling pace. This was exactly what it was like about 3 weeks into my experience in Bots. I felt a little alone, lost, and wondering why I decided to embark on this excursion.

Around 14 kilometers, my legs were hurting more than ever but I decided to push through for the last 1/3 of the race. This part of the race was like the majority of my study abroad experience thus far. It was painful. I questioned if I could keep going. But I found a reason to finish the race.

While both the race and coming to Africa have taken a toll on nearly every part of my being, I love(d) both experiences. I feel myself growing into a person I always wished I could become by being here. I hope every student who has the opportunity to study abroad takes the risk and packs their bags. The only way I can describe the last leg of the race and my time here at UB is a beautiful struggle (it pains me to have to use that expression because I generally hate all things cheesy but I suppose some times we must embrace our inner dairy product loving selves).  It has been fulfilling and I have seen some incredible sights, but there were moments when I just wanted to give up.

Study Abroad blogger Haley Church is a sophomore majoring in Interdepartmental Sciences and Pre-Medicine. She is currently studying abroad for a semester in Gaborone, Botswana through ISEP. To see more photos of Haley's adventures, visit here.

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