I started swimming when I was very little and soon began dreaming about making it to the Olympic Games. I started competing at the Dutch championships when I was 12 years old and swam a Dutch age record when I was 18, after which I joined the Dutch national trainings center. I tried to combine college and swimming in the Netherlands, but this was a major hassle. After finishing my propaedeutic certificate (first year of college), I was invited to go to the United States and join the Bowling Green State University swim team (Ohio) where I received a sport-scholarship for both years.
After I made the decision to go I was flooded by paperwork of the NCAA and requirements to complete before being eligible, including certified copies of diplomas and requesting a VISA. Before I left the Netherlands my major concern was the language, because I am more of a Beta person and nobody on the BGSU swim team spoke Dutch. However, within three weeks in Bowling Green I did not even notice anymore that people around me were speaking a different language.
In the United States, combining my studies of Business Administration with swimming was made possible. As a student-athlete you can choose your courses before the other students are able to do so, which enables you to plan your course schedule around your practices. Because of this I was able to get a 4.0 grade point average for all my semesters in the USA (highest grade possible), for which I got selected to the Dean’s list. Besides that, I practiced 20 hours a week consisting of swimming practices, lifting, dryland and running. I was able to win medals and thereby score a lot of points for my university during the conference meets. I also got the opportunity to compete at the open US nationals twice, which was an amazing experience!
Not only did I gain a great experience abroad, I also became proficient in English, was able to combine swimming and studying, and received awards for performing well in both. In addition to that, BGSU offered me the chance to attend great extracurricular activities as well. I was invited to the initiation of the Hall of Fame members, during which I met the major sponsors of BGSU and learned about their life experiences. Furthermore, one of the main sponsors organizes an event every year where CEOs or founders of big companies come and talk about their success stories. One of them was the founder of Shark Tank. As a student-athlete I was able to eat lunch with them and ask questions.
All in all, sports are more integrated in universities in the USA than in the Netherlands and most of Europe. They enable you to follow your sport dreams as long as you earn good grades. You will have a busy schedule going to practices before and after classes and doing homework. The time that remains can be spent on great extracurricular activities that will be organized by your university or sponsors and by going to support your fellow student-athletes of other sports.
Note from the editor: Joëlle Scheps is now now a Project Manager within the central information services (CIV) department of Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Her first project is TN-ITS GO: a European project to standardize road data across 9 European countries. Congrats Joëlle!
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