Spring break trip offers hands-on sports medicine, nutrition lessons

· 6 min read

Spring break trip offers hands-on sports medicine, nutrition lessons

photo of study abroad nebraska students in greece
Courtesy of Dennis Perkey
Twelve students, led by faculty members Georgia Jones and Dennis Perkey, pose with a Husker flag in the 2004 Olympic stadium.

From the grounds of the ancient Olympics to modern-day metabolic testing, 12 Huskers spent spring break in Greece, immersed in the history and application of nutrition and sports medicine.

“I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was seeing or how I was feeling because it was completely unbelievable,” said Payton Schneider, a freshman athletic training major from St. Louis.

Led by Georgia Jones and Dennis Perkey, faculty in Nutrition and Health Sciences, the students spent six days in Athens and Olympia touring ancient and modern Olympic stadiums, learning from top-of-the-line practitioners, and applying their studies through cooking classes and metabolic testing. Students learned the importance of understanding the historical and cultural backgrounds of their fields while embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For Schneider, the program was not only her first experience abroad but also her first time on a plane.

husker student greece
Courtesy of Payton Schneider
Schneider, a freshman athletic training student, during her spring break study abroad program to Greece.

Growing up, Schneider’s family would drive to their vacations, so she had never been on an airplane and never had a passport. Schneider also hadn’t traveled often, and the thought of studying abroad hadn’t even crossed her mind until she was offered the opportunity at Nebraska.

“In one of my classes they talked about the Global Experience Office, so I looked into it and found this trip,” she said. “It was all about nutrition, sports medicine and the Greece influence on modern-day sports. It checked all the boxes because it was all things that I really liked, in addition to the opportunity to go to Greece. I’ve always wanted to go there because it’s beautiful and I felt like that experience would be unreal.”

After reaching out to advisers to sign up for the program, her luck continued to push her toward the adventure. Schneider received the Husker Passport Giveaway and the Early Abroad Scholarship, which (in addition to another scholarship) funded more than half of the program and gave her a free passport.

“Earning all of these scholarships was the kind of thing that told me, this is where I need to be,” she said. “It told me this was the right thing for me, so I knew I had to go. It all happened kind of out of nowhere, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

After returning from studying abroad, Schneider was thrilled about the experience. A quick flight to Atlanta helped ease her flight nerves, and she loved the tours and bonding with her classmates in the evenings.

Her favorite part of the experience was their visit to the Nurtrilab, where nutrition and sport aligned to conduct testing for high-level athletes. They observed as the experts conducted a variety of tests and built a nutrition plan for a 14-time Greek national champion cyclist to enhance his athletic performance. Afterward, the students took part and had their own testing done.

greek professional cyclist
Courtesy of Payton Schneider
Students watch as a Greek cyclist undergoes testing to improve his athletic performance.

The goal of the experience was to connect the historical and cultural influences of students’ fields of study and interests with modern, real-world applications.

“It was important for students to able to see the connection between the past and the present through the connection of nutrition and food and current modern-day athletics,” said Perkey, the study abroad faculty leader and director of the athletic training program.

Students toured ancient Olympic facilities in Olympia, the International Olympic Academy, and sites of modern Olympics since 1896.

“It was a unique perspective for students to see where the original Olympic games took place in 776 BC and then seeing that same spirit continue with the current Olympic games,” Perkey said.

Schneider was awe-struck by the history attached to the ancient Olympic sites.

“Just taking a step back and thinking about where you’re standing and what all has happened right where you’re standing makes you feel makes you feel very privileged,” she said. “Like a speck of dust on this planet, but to be surrounded by all of this ancient history was a bit of a culture shock for me.”

greece ancient olympics
Courtesy of Payton Schneider

Nutritionally, the students were immersed in the role that food plays in the Greek culture and learned about the Mediterranean and the role that it plays in nutrition.

At a Greek olive farm, the students tasted olive oil to learn the difference between different types of oils. Then, they learned from a Greek chef and cooked moussaka (Greek eggplant parmesan), a Greek salad and tzatziki.

“They actually got to cook the food themselves, so it wasn’t like they observed someone else cooking,” said Jones, associate professor of nutrition and health sciences and extension food specialist. “I think that tasting the oils and cooking food, particularly from a different culture, makes valuable contributions to the students’ learning.”

Those contributions may help them work better with and appreciate more diverse people and cultures throughout their careers.

“As dietitians, everybody that we work with will not look like us, and you have to have some understanding of their culture,” Jones said. “As the world and this country become more and more diverse, it becomes more important to have some appreciation for somebody else’s food culture.”

With support from the International Travel Risk Committee, the university began resuming study abroad programs in July 2021. This spring break marks the first College of Education and Human Sciences study abroad program since the onset of COVID-19. It’s also the second time Jones and Perkey have led this program since an inaugural experience in 2019. Though intended to run every other year, the program will be offered again in spring 2023 due to the pandemic.

Beyond the Greece program, Huskers took individual trips both abroad and to destinations around the U.S. over spring break. Another university program took Emerging Media Arts students down to North Carolina, where they studied the history of Seabreeze and connections to global social justice movements. Funded in part by the Global Experiences Office innovation fund, the students collected interviews and other media assets in order to create aa virtual immersive storytelling experience that will connect global and local contexts.

No matter the destination, Jones, Perkey and Schneider shared the sentiment that education aboard is a vital part of education and personal development.

“It’s a time for personal growth,” Jones said. “You get to see diverse cultures and you get to appreciate somebody else’s way of life. It changes a person.”

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