While most college students have free time, student-athletes have to jam-pack their schedule with training, practice and game competition.
Nicole Isdaner, Emily May, Megan Paytas and Carli Sukonik of the Lehigh women’s lacrosse team could have taken a break this summer. Instead, they used their time to travel abroad for the Lehigh in Paris program.
“I heard about the program through a family friend before I even came to Lehigh and knew it was something I would love to be part of one day,” said Sukonik. “Over the past year, Megan and Nikki also expressed interest in studying abroad, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to all travel together.”
There is an application process Lehigh in Paris, a history and architecture program. Ironically, May was planning on applying herself, then found out that Isdaner, Paytas and Sukonik were also applying. Run from July 1-31, the program is designed to take maximum advantage of its location within the heart of France.
As described on the program’s webpage: “Students will be able to study the urban form of Paris developed during a century of change, as well as the most recent architecture in Paris and the metropolitan area. No previous training in architecture required.”
Classes were held Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The courses offered were called France from Medieval to Modern: Politics, Society & Art, along with Paris: The Planning of a Metropolis.
As student-athletes, the commitment to their sport doesn’t end. Like during the school year, they had to balance academics and athletics, even thousands of miles from home.
“We would wake up around 7 a.m. to run and work out,” said Isdaner. “It was nice that we were all there together, which made the early workouts easier. We all have different styles of working out, so it was fun to teach new types of exercises and push each other on runs and sprints. We had access to the gyms on weekends, so we could lift weights and train indoors.”
“We were determined to stay active,” said Sukonik. “We used the trail in the park and found creative ways to stay strong, such as using the park’s jungle gym and benches, since we didn’t have access to weights very often.”
Sukonik was surprised by where they lived. Rather than residing in the heart of Paris, the four lived towards the southern part of the city.
“Since we lived in the outskirts, we had to travel a little further to get to places, but we became masters of the Metro,” said Sukonik.
Lehigh in Paris doesn’t feature a typical classroom setting, which actually helped the four Mountain Hawks stay active for their sport.
“We were never sitting in a classroom. Instead, the classes featured walking tours of Paris,” said Isdaner. “Some days, we would walk up to 10 miles in tours. It was a great way to stay in shape and learn at the same time.”
“We studied Paris’ history and architecture,” said May. “We were assigned readings, quizzes and essays that corresponded with each day’s activity, whether it was touring the Notre Dame Cathedral, admiring artwork in the Louvre, or walking beneath the city through the Catacombs… so cool. It was incredible to actually see everything we were learning about.”
“We started learning about history from around the 1100s and continued chronologically until World War II,” said Sukonik.
Since classes ended on Thursday afternoons, the four were able to travel on the weekends.
“We took advantage of how much cheaper and easier it is to travel in Europe, spending each weekend in a new city: first Florence, then Amsterdam and Barcelona,” said May. “They’re all very different, but equally beautiful cities.”
Other cities that these Mountain Hawks visited include Barcelona, Rome and Nice, France.
In-class learning was prevalent, but arguably even more learning came outside the classroom by seeing, adjusting to and exploring a different culture.
“There were many cultural differences between the U.S. and Paris,” said Paytas. “The dining experience was completely different. The waiter doesn’t constantly come over to check on you. Also, they generally don’t allow you to make substitutions to your order. Carli and I are both vegetarians which made ordering a little more difficult.”
“I learned that crepes as we know it are only for dessert,” said Sukonik. “Galettes are what the French call their savory crepes, and they are made of buckwheat and folded into a square. Not quite what we imagined…”
The tipping policy was also different in Paris.
“Tip is included in the price of each item on the menu, so you generally do not tip,” said Sukonik. “Also, Parisians don’t eat dinner until around 9:30 p.m. so we ate dinner anywhere between 8:30 and 10:30.”
It took time to adjust, but according to May, she started feeling like a local.
“I study French at Lehigh, so I was able to communicate with others, even though a surprising amount of people spoke English,” she said. “I grocery shopped at the neighborhood market and picnicked in the park all the time. It was so nice to be able to just relax outside with friends after our busy days.
“Relaxing is something Parisians are very familiar with, whether it’s outside at a café with an espresso or a delicious meal at a brasserie, one that will last them hours,” May continued. “They really take the time to enjoy themselves.”
As the Mountain Hawks congregate for the beginning of 2014-15, these four will continue to share a summer full of memories. Having each other by their side paid dividends. They pushed each other and kept each other focused when it would have been easy to let their conditioning slide.
“We had a great time together and having teammates on the trip helped tremendously, especially working out in preparation for preseason,” said May. “There were very few gyms in Paris, but we were able to run and do body weight circuits alongside the local Parisians. A group of older women sitting with their little dogs would even cheer as we ran by each morning.”
The Lehigh women’s lacrosse team features strong chemistry on and off the field. This is just another example.
“This group of girls has such amazing chemistry off the field as friends. I cannot wait to see how this translates onto the field,” said Sukonik. “Chemistry is such an important factor to a team’s success. It will allow us to stay motivated and work hard as everyone has the same vision of winning.”
“I am so excited to be back at school with our team,” said Paytas. “We are all so close and really enjoy being with each other.”
These student-athletes decided to take full advantage of this summer and experience something they can’t fit into their jam-packed school year. Lehigh encourages learning outside of academics and athletics and summertime is a perfect opportunity to do so.
“I’ve always been very interested in studying abroad,” said May. “One of the reasons I chose Lehigh was because of the number of summer programs available, even for student-athletes. I absolutely loved Paris. It was a trip I’ll never forget.”
The Lehigh women’s lacrosse team loves being around each other. No better sign than taking one of the few times they’re away from each other and traveling to another country… together. Whether it’s on the playing field or in Paris, the team camaraderie is evident. They work hard for themselves and each other.
They will look to take the momentum from their 2014 Patriot League Tournament appearance into the 2015 season.
“It seems like everyone has worked extremely hard over the summer and really embodied our team values of No Excuses, Team First, and Grit, which is a goal our team has been striving to achieve,” said Sukonik. “I have high expectations for this group of girls because I am confident we are all in it to win it this season.”
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