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Going global: How 5 postgraduate student-athletes continued their game abroad

By Ryan Bermudez and Monica Miller

For most NCAA student-athletes, their playing days end at commencement or whenever their eligibility runs out. However, not all student-athletes are ready to stop competing or stop learning after they walk across that stage.

NCAA After the Game caught up with five former NCAA athletes who seized opportunities to continue to pursue both passions — while getting a taste of life in another country. These men and women enrolled in international graduate programs that provide student-athletes an avenue for earning a master’s degree while continuing to play their sport. Below, they reflect on their culturally rich, life-changing international experiences as postgraduate playing scholars.

Kevin Owens

Kevin Owen. Credit: Ball State University; Durham University

As a former volleyball student-athlete at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, Owens earned a bachelor’s degree in actuarial science and mathematical economics in 2014. He went on to compete on the volleyball team at Durham University in Durham, U.K., where he will earn a master’s degree in finance and investment in January.

Why I studied abroad:

“Durham’s graduate program spans one year, and most others offer two-year programs. And with scholarship money, it was significantly more affordable for me than the traditional graduate programs in the States. Also, I love traveling, loved living abroad and thought it would be a fun way to get continue my education.

“After Ball State, I played professional volleyball for two years on teams in the Czech Republic and Puerto Rico before returning to the States to work full time in data analytics for a manufacturing firm in Indiana. One day, a volleyball player/coach at Durham University in the U.K. sent me a text and asked if I’d be interested in joining his team. I didn’t know him and had no idea that people could go to the U.K. and play their sport while earning a master’s degree. I wasn’t familiar with the schools there and didn’t know Durham competed in volleyball. It intrigued me, so I started doing my homework and ultimately decided to give it a shot.”

What was different about playing my sport in a new country:

“As an NCAA student-athlete, you’ve got people to help you be successful in all aspects — athletics, academics support and job hunting. Like many teams at Durham, we didn’t have a full-time coach. Being one of the older guys on the men’s volleyball team, I helped our player/coach run practices. We’d get our own training equipment and set it up in the gym for workouts. No big deal, but it’s these little things that you don’t think about when playing collegiate sports in the U.S.

“Volleyball is not as popular in the U.K. as it is elsewhere, but it’s growing. Many of my Durham teams competed as undergrads at NCAA Division I, II and III levels. Through our matches against schools around the country, we modeled to younger students how beautiful the sport can be when it’s played at a high level. I hope we inspired those schools to continue building their volleyball programs.” 

How the experience changed me:

“My worldview has been broadened. I now have a network of people from around the world that I’ve not only competed with and against, but together we’ve studied and explored other countries.”

Virginia Elena Carta

Virginia Elena Carta. Credit: NCAA photos

A native of Udine, Italy, Carta earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and policy from Duke University in 2019. Carta recently joined the men’s golf team at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, U.K, while pursuing a master’s degree in environmental policy.

Why I am studying abroad:

“After completing my graduate studies, I would like to play golf professionally for a couple of years. Thus, I must keep playing and practicing regularly. Sports have so many facets that you can always find something that will help later in your journey. Competing as a graduate student-athlete is a great opportunity to think about your priorities and manage your time and life in the best possible way.”

What is different about playing my sport in a new country:

“It’s completely different. The Cambridge golf schedule is structured so that we play match-plays during the weekends on golf courses that host us and there are no weekday training sessions. Since I arrived, I work out in my college gym almost every day, and with a 30-minute one-way walk to campus, I intentionally walk really fast to class. I need to invest in a bike soon. I am part of the men’s first team known as the “Blues.” Because I compete from the men’s tees, it allows me to improve many aspects of my game. I’m deeply thankful to this team that has welcomed me and made me feel an integral part of it.”

Andrew Curiel

Andrew Curiel. Credit: College of Mount St. Vincent; Limerick Institute of Technology

A former basketball student-athlete at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, Curiel earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2018. He played on the basketball team at the Limerick Institute of Technology in Limerick, Ireland, where he earned a master’s degree in business with a concentration in marketing and management strategy in 2019.

Why I studied abroad:

“Why not continue to play a sport that you’ve been playing your whole life, get another year out of it and get to impact so many people that either come to your games, play with you or are around you? The sense of another degree on your resume is something that’s going to help you in the long run. It gives you credibility not only among employers, but also among other people. You get to walk into a room and have a different light shed on you because you lived in another country, played a sport, impacted the kids and people in your community, and you also got another degree under your belt.”

What was different about playing my sport in a new country:

“It wasn’t as much pressure, which I enjoyed, as I knew my basketball career was coming to an end. Any time you missed a shot, they said: ‘Oh, no worries. Get the next one.’ And they legitimately meant that. Over there, it's a lot more relaxed.”

How the experience changed me:

“I’m more relaxed and patient with people now because that’s how they are in Ireland. Like all the things from my student-athlete days, I don’t feel the sense of anxiety or the sense of being in a rush like I used to. I’m more chill, and I really do credit that to Ireland because that’s how every single person was around me.”

Amanda Seekamp

Amanda Seekamp. Credit: Hofstra University; Durham University

A former lacrosse student-athlete at Hofstra in Hempstead, New York, Seekamp earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing in 2018. As a lacrosse student-athlete at Durham University in Durham, U.K., she will earn a master’s degree in marketing, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies in January.

Why I studied abroad:

“After hearing from a friend at Hofstra that you could play overseas and get a master’s degree in one year, I was hooked. After talking to my coach, I realized it was a viable option for me. Getting my parents on board with the plan didn’t come that quick, but once I shared the details, they were supportive. They visited me three times in England and surprised me one time by coming over for our lacrosse championship game. We beat Cambridge, and it was cool to have my parents there cheering us on to victory.”

What was different about playing my sport in a new country:

“There are no mandatory study halls for student-athletes. Athletics is more relaxed, but still very competitive. I had to work hard, but I had more time to branch out and hone new skills.”

How the experience changed me:

“While there, I traveled to over 15 different places, which was amazing. And finishing my master’s degree in one year from one of the world’s leading universities academic-wise is among my proudest accomplishments. If you love your sport, can handle another year of rigorous schoolwork and have the travel bug like me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet interesting people and experience new cultures while earning your master’s degree.”

Tara Prosak

Tara Prosak. Credit: Nazareth College; Tara Prosak.

A former lacrosse student-athlete at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, Prosak earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and sports management in 2014. She earned a master’s degree in business administration in 2019 at Durham University in Durham, U.K., while competing in lacrosse.

Why I studied abroad:

“After graduating from Nazareth, I moved to England and worked two years as a local development officer with the English Lacrosse Association. As a lacrosse club player and coach, I worked with Reading, Oxford Brookes and Oxford Universities, which gave me a unique perspective. I heard about the Durham program from other Americans enrolled there and gained an inside view when I visited the campus. I returned to the States and spent a season coaching lacrosse at St. Mary’s College of California. Unfortunately, I lost my job when the school cut the lacrosse program. When Durham offered me a tuition-free postgraduate playing scholarship, it was a no-brainer for me.”

What was different about playing my sport in a new country:

“At Durham, there are six levels of amateur women’s lacrosse teams, and many of the girls were new to the sport, but all were equally accepted. The first- and second-level teams were considered elite and shared one full-time coach. Being a scholarship player, I took on the coaching role for the other four teams.

“The sport was self-run. Girls voted on a team president, treasurer and secretary who had responsibilities for scheduling, uniform ordering, and back-end tasks such as organizing team transportation and handling the team’s finances. In the States, that’s all taken care of on behalf of the players.

“All university-sponsored sports in England competed on Wednesdays. Classes ended early because you were either competing or were there cheering on your classmates. Having multiple sports competing at once made for great game-day atmospheres at home and away.”

How the experience changed me:

“The matriculation ceremony in Durham’s beautiful Cathedral Hall — the annual ceremony welcoming new students — is where my classmates and I were formally introduced to the college and to the residential house in which we were being placed. Much like in the Harry Potter movies, we filed into the hall wearing black robes. It was the start of my immersion into the English culture and me getting involved in things outside my major and sport.”