How I Used Fitness to Immerse Myself Abroad

Meagan Klebanoff is a student at Colgate University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh in Spring 2016.

We’ve all heard that it can be difficult to keep up with fitness routines and stay in shape while abroad. To a certain extent, that’s true. There are so many delicious new foods (and drinks) to try, both in your home city and while traveling; how could anyone resist? This question lingered in my mind for weeks as I prepared to leave home and study at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

I grew up playing sports of all kinds. This was practically required by my two older brothers, who I think would have had heart failure if their little sister wouldn’t watch or play sports with them. Flash forward twenty-one years later, and I workout quite frequently, and I am also a certified yoga instructor.

I enjoy the physical release and positive endorphins provided by exercise. They relax me and clear my mind. I cherish my daily workouts because they allow me to take some time for myself to think. I was worried that I was going to lose this while abroad. For someone who keeps a set routine (of any kind, not just exercise), suddenly finding yourself in a new country and with a new schedule can be difficult.

Many of these worries disappeared when I got to Edinburgh. I immediately fell in love with the city. I was so comfortable and so happy there. Shortly after arriving, I picked my workout routine back up thanks to the incredible facilities at the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Sport and Exercise, which happened to be only a five-minute walk from my flat.

Fitness yoga studio Scotland study abroad

I figured that finding a gym would be relatively easy since I was living in a major city, and I had researched the university facilities beforehand. Finding a yoga studio that you like can be a bit trickier, especially if you’re an avid practitioner and are used to a certain style.

Part of my decision to study in Edinburgh was because I knew I would be able to continue my yoga practice while abroad, and that was important to me. I did some online research and found a studio called Meadowlark Yoga only a short walk from my flat. I signed up for a class and really enjoyed both the studio space and the instructors. Some of the terminology was a bit different than I’m used to and, as an American, cues in a Scottish accent added a fun twist to the class. I started practicing at Meadowlark a few times per week and even convinced some friends to join me.

Yoga group Scotland study abroad

One day, while I was at the gym, I saw an advertisement for a boot camp run by the athletic trainers that would meet two times per week for a month. I’ve never done anything of the kind, but what did I have to lose?

My friend, Nisha (who I met through my flatmate—they were abroad from the same American university) and I decided to sign up. On the first day, we recognized none of the faces in the boot camp with us. There were about fifteen of us, and we all seemed excited, but a bit anxious, for the challenge to come. It was the most difficult physical workout I’ve ever done.

I can say that with complete certainty. I don’t think I’ve ever done as many burpees in my life. I was absolutely exhausted after. Honestly, I think I went to bed at 8pm that night. To give you an idea of how hard it was, one day we did a version of the Bring Sally Up pushup challenge, shown in this video.

University of Edinburgh Boot Camp Scotland study abroad

Despite this rude awakening to how difficult the boot camp would be, Nisha and I kept up with it and became hooked. The program enabled us to meet and become friends with other university students because it worked us all so hard that it built a sense of camaraderie among us. I made friends at the boot camp that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I also became closer with Nisha. Not to mention, I can now do 25 real pushups in a row, something that I never, ever thought I would be able to say.

These experiences may seem insignificant to some, but they truly shaped my abroad experience. I think that it is so important to always remember what you value and love doing, and find ways to incorporate that into your life regardless of where you are in the world.

Just because you’re abroad, it doesn’t mean that you have to give that up. You’ll experience so many new things and grow in ways that you can’t even imagine, but you don’t have to forsake parts of yourself to do so. Joining a yoga studio and participating in the boot camp enabled me to connect with the local community in Edinburgh and truly make a life for myself there. Because of these connections, I fell in love with the city and the people that I met—and I miss Edinburgh every day.

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