International learning opportunities can be vital for a 21st-century college education. However, at many universities, student-athletes find it difficult to squeeze international travel into their busy schedule.
Ohio Wesleyan made it easy to go global this past summer for its football and men's soccer teams, with the Battling Bishop football team visiting Spain in May and the men's soccer team touring Germany in August.
"It was an educational opportunity to see parts of the world that I don't think many of them would (otherwise) see," says football coach Tom Watts. "We're very fortunate to be able to do this with teammates and staff and be able to see the history of this part of the world."
The men's soccer team, which has traveled to Germany 12 times since the 1980s, landed in Frankfurt and went on a tour of the Rhine River, boating from Bingen to St. Goar on the way to the host city of Baumholder.
Baumholder District Mayor Bernd Alsfasser and City Mayor Günther Jung welcomed the Bishops to town, and the team then toured Baumholder's city museum and the U.S. Army base in Baumholder, where the Bishops presented a clinic for family members of soldiers on the base, which is one of the largest U.S. bases in Europe.
"It is a very tight-knit community," says junior back Brady West, "but it's different in that a lot of people are American soldiers. It's cool to see the relationship between soldiers and the town. They really cherish what they have."
"Baumholder is the definition of a community that everyone takes pride in," says senior back Josh Cabacungan. "They show up at soccer games, and they take us in and make us part of their own families. Our host dad was in the German military, and they have friends in the U.S. military, and they were inspired to learn English and become a host family for us."
The Bishops played several games during the trip, including one in Oberkirchen, where they have played on each trip since 2005. Before this year's game, a 2-0 loss to JFG Schaumberg- Prims, local officials dedicated a brick in an Oberkirchen plaza to Ohio Wesleyan men's soccer coach Jay Martin.
The Bishops' busy schedule included a tour of the German Football Museum in Dortmund, where the team learned about the history of the sport and its place in German culture; a visit to the castle ruins at Heidelberg, where they toured one of Germany's most picturesque university towns; a day in Trier, the oldest city in Germany and one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire; and a trip to Dachau to visit the memorial and museum.
The team's time in Köln was one of the highlights for West. "You can feel the history was there with more of a modern vibe, but they were able to keep both. There are some modern landmarks and the cathedral."
The travel was interspersed with games against German opponents throughout the trip, and the players lived with host families in Baumholder.
"What is unique is that our guys stay with German families while we're there," says Martin. "We want to introduce them to high-level soccer and German culture. We play professional teams and little German soccer clubs, and I think, anecdotally from the guys, that it has been pretty successful."
On the day of the Bishops' final game, they traveled to Fritz-Walter Stadium in Kaiserslautern, home of 1. FC Kaiserslautern. After seeing some of the inner workings of the stadium and going through the tunnel to field level, the team got a surprise visit from former United States men's national team member and current Kaiserslautern player Terrence Boyd.
With the competitive portion of the schedule completed, the team headed to Munich, where they toured the legendary Neuschwanstein castle and attended a Supercup game between Bayern Munich and Leipzig.
The football team landed in Madrid, then traveled to Valencia to view some of the outstanding modern architecture before heading to the eastern Mediterranean coast.
Then, the team visited the Peniscola Castle fortress that sits above the beaches of Peniscola before donning the pads for a practice session.
The following day in Salou, Ohio Wesleyan faced the L'Hospitalet Pioners, building a 21-3 halftime lead on the way to a 28-3 win.
"A lot of (their) players were from a larger demographic group in terms of ages," says junior defensive end Tyler Yanka, "but they love the sport as much as we do."
"They were a really cool group," says senior quarterback Kaden Buza. "They were fun and excited to see us play, and we did a jersey swap (after the game)."
The squad went on to Barcelona, where they viewed Catalan Modernisme art and toured the medieval Gothic Quarter area, the Barcelona cathedral, the Eixample District, and La Sagrada Família, the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world.
Neither Buza nor Yanka had ever traveled out of the United States before.
"I never thought I'd have that much fun traveling before," Yanka says. "I'll never forget it."
"This was a trip of a lifetime, and I was excited to see our guys enjoying the trip from start to finish," says Watts.
Mark Beckenbach '81