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viewpoint

Pick study abroad over football

| Monday, April 30, 2018

I haven’t missed a home football game in my two years at Notre Dame, nor have I left any games early. I’m a fiercely loyal sports fan who loves Notre Dame football. Nevertheless, last November game days felt like a bit of a hassle. To be fair, I neither drink nor particularly enjoy tailgating, and my legs aren’t as strong as they were in my high school cross country days. Though I was thrilled Notre Dame was winning, I wasn’t sure the blowout games were worth the cold, driving rain that defined the end of the season.

This time in my life coincided with my study abroad applications. Owing to my (undiagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder and general love of fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I elected to apply to a spring semester program. But when filling out the application, I didn’t hesitate to check the box indicating that I was willing to go abroad either semester if need be. Some fellow applicants I know didn’t check that box. The reason? The football season with which I was disillusioned.

Studying abroad is one of the only times in your life where you get to spend four months in an exotic environment with all of your basic needs taken care of. But it’s not just a vacation, it’s a chance to expand your horizons. It’s impossible to grasp historical calamities, like World War I or the Holocaust, without seeing where they took place. Notre Dame’s mission statement speaks of a desire to “create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” Human solidarity is impossible to cultivate without exposure to other cultures.

Football is a great way to have fun and bond with the Notre Dame community. I don’t think it should come at the expense of an amazing opportunity such as study abroad. There are practical considerations on this point. We haven’t won a national championship in 30 years: The chance that your junior season is the season is (sadly) slim. The season might actually go really poorly on the field. Or, you might just get bored with it. Philosophically, study abroad has some built-in dimensions that football games lack: Namely, the opportunity to break out of the bubble that the average Notre Dame student (white, Catholic and middle class) inhabits. Being a force for good in the world requires a familiarity with the world.

One frustration I have when I talk to non-Notre Dame students about Notre Dame is the University’s stubborn reputation as a “football school.” People don’t seem to grasp that we’re a lot more than that. A Notre Dame priest discovered the formula for synthetic rubber. Notre Dame students once faced off against the KKK in South Bend. Our former president was the architect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. There are countless examples of the school’s cultural and intellectual prestige, but this side of our reputation often gets swallowed up by football tradition.

I love football season. It’s a unique part of the Notre Dame experience. But it’s just a part, not the whole experience. So, if you’re applying to go abroad, please check the “either semester” box, even if you would prefer to go in the spring. Studying abroad is an experience you’ll never forget; it has the potential to reshape your entire worldview. Plus, you’ll be back on campus in time for your senior season.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a junior at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland.

Contact Tom