We have all seen the movies, parties, socializing and nightlife are a huge part of the American college experience. But America is also home to the most world-renowned colleges and universities. How do American students balance their academics with the rest of their lives? Student - athletes have even more on their plates with games and practices to consider. How do they do it??
The United States higher education system is different from everywhere else in the world. Due to the existence of organizations like the NCAA and the prevalence of college athletics, schools very much consider student - athletes other obligations and try to help them as much as they can balance athletics with their school work. Teachers and professors are very understanding of the demanding schedule athletes face; this is a very common thing in American Universities and they are well equipped to help the students in whatever way they can. Teachers work with student-athletes to change testing dates, offer tutoring, and in some cases extra credit assignments.
Miami is known as The Magic City for a reason. Beautiful beaches and incredible bars and restaurants, not to mention incredible music and art venues and vibrant cultural institutions, can be found everywhere. Miami is also home to many prestigious athletic programs and academic institutions, like Florida International University and University of Miami. We spoke to our golf manager, Camila Serrano (Colombia) about her experiences studying in Florida and got her advice on how to handle everything an education in the United States will throw at you! She says now that “mostly it is very important for me to spread the word to many kids and families that they can use a sport as a tool in order to get a good degree and create great career opportunities. In Latin America this is not a way of living as athletic scholarships are not very well known and universities lack resources. But, if students are able to go internationally and do this, we can create a better sports culture which usually leads to great people with values and ethics”.
Q: Why did you decide to go to America to study? Why did you choose Florida?
I decided to go to America because I saw there was a chance of taking my golf career further than national and international competitions but also being able to use it as a tool to complete my college studies. Also I wanted to compete on a team and live the “college life.” I chose Florida mainly because of location, Miami is just three hours away from Colombia and it is an easy fly (I don’t like airports that much).
Q: What was the hardest part of balancing golf and school?
Time management for sure is one of the most difficult things in college. You think you have enough time to study but turns out you have practice and workouts in the morning and you have to study at night wishing to be asleep resting.
Q: How did the school help you balance your athletic obligations with your academic responsibilities?
School helped me a lot to balance academics and athletics. They offered me tutors and extra help in order to catch up when we were away in tournaments. It is important of course to remind everyone about the competitions and when you do, everyone usually is very helpful and understanding.
Q: What was your favorite thing about being in Florida?
The weather is perfect for a sport (golf) that who's season is a year long. I also love the beach, which was close by.
Q: What was unexpected about the experience?
To be honest, expecting a huge change in my way of living. At the end, I wished I would have taken more advantage of everything I was given including opportunities and resources as you get to meet a lot of people that can contribute to your career and your dreams. Most of the “bad” things I experienced was during the process of getting a scholarship and anything else was because of ignorance. I didn’t really know how things worked and there was no one I could ask for advice. This is the main thing I would like to avoid so that families are able to get the whole picture and from there, make any decisions.
Q: What time management advice would you give to students in a similar situation?
The most important advice regarding time management is not procrastinating. It is one of the worst things you can do as we think we have all the time in the world but it turns out that you don’t. At the end you realize that you could have done things much better if you have started them sooner.
Q: What were your biggest accomplishments during your career?
During college I won the “freshman of the year” award, in my senior year I won “player of the year” and in that same year I got to go to the NCAA D1 nationals as an individual player. It is usually much easier to get there with your team, but it was more difficult to get there as an individual.
Q: Do you still play? What for mostly? Fun, health, relationships, etc.
Yes, I still play, I am a professional golfer as of today.
Q: What were some difficulties or challenges in the transition process?
Transcripts were one of the main problems when I got to the university as the grades in Colombia were different than in the US. I couldn’t play my first semester and I didn’t get the chance to do a red-shirt year because I didn’t know that existed.
Q: What were the biggest lessons you have learned in college or as a result of going through your college experience?
I think independence is one of the biggest lessons you can learn from college. You stop relying on the people around you and more on yourself. Also, as golf is usually an individual sport but in college is a team sport, you get the chance of relying on people you couldn’t before.
Q: What has been the hardest thing about your years in school?
The hardest things sometimes were when getting back from a tournament or getting back from a heavy day of workouts, practice and class and having to still do chores such as laundry, cooking or organizing your space and not having anyone who could help. There were days in which it was easier to have all your clothes dirty and just getting extra sleep hours instead.
Q: What has been the best thing about your years in school?
I used to love the activities that were offered such as Zumba classes or volunteering activities to help the local community. One big and great thing was meeting new people everyday and being able to get to know different cultures in such a diverse university in the middle of Miami.
Q: In what way did your life change (attitude to things, opinions, etc.)?
A huge change in my life was being independent and being able to solve things on my own.
Q: What direction did you go after graduating?
I was sure I wanted to become a professional golfer but I didn’t do it right after graduation.
Q: What activities are you involved in?
Mainly I am practicing and training everyday, also trying to get into meaningful relationships that could potentially help my career and create a good reference of women’s golf in Colombia and Latin America.