Alumni Storytelling Series
Student-Athletes Abroad program alumni share their experiences in a deep-dive format through our new storytelling series.
Kelsey Witkay spent two back-to-back summers abroad in Cape Town and Thailand.
Here's her story.
I never knew that two separate 3-week trips spent traveling with Student-Athletes Abroad would turn into a lifetime worth of unforgettable memories, continued friendships across the country and world, and the development of skills that have helped me gain further opportunities towards my ultimate career goals. When I first came across Student Athletes Abroad two years ago via Athlete Network, I was definitely very hesitant as it sounded too good to be true. I had always wanted to go abroad, but as a student-athlete I never thought it would be possible! Yet, Student Athletes Abroad changed all that and has since become the best two 3-week experiences in both Cape Town, South Africa and Phuket, Thailand.
My first trip with Student Athletes Abroad to Cape Town, South Africa in summer 2018, I was very nervous to be going such a far away without knowing anyone. However, as soon as we got on the plane, already having people to get to know and talk to made the flight so much better! By the time, we landed in Cape Town we had already all been through such a long journey together that we were already connected for everything that was to come from there. My first day of work in Cape Town, was one of the most eye-opening days that I have experienced. I remember Grant and Nawaal, our internship coordinators, had talked to us in advance about the conditions of the townships, but no words can truly capture experiencing the townships first-hand. Driving up to Project Playground, where I was able to work and intern, we drove past metal shack, after metal shack, one on top of the other, with 5+ people living inside each one. The kids on the streets would walk with no shoes, dirty clothes, or even be caught up in a street fight, which is a regular occurrence here. Little did I know, that in my short three weeks in South Africa, I would be able to make a small impact on some of the people in this community.
I immediately fell in love with Project Playground’s philosophy of not only providing resources to these kids in need, but more so providing them the ability to partake in arts and sports to develop skills that would allow them to find success outside of the conditions that they are currently living in. While we were there as interns we not only got to interact with the kids and staff, but we were given the task to create marketing resources for Project Playground’s sponsors, as well as develop ideas to market to the U.S. This is where my love for marketing first came into play as beforehand as an Exercise Science major I had never had any exposure to the field. I immediately fell in love with the ability to constantly be thinking of new ideas to best market Project Playground’s brand and I loved that I was able to leave behind our newly developed marketing resources to be used by their staff even after we left!
Aside from the work, the travel and excursions that we had the opportunity to experience while in South Africa were exhilarating and breathtaking. To this day, I will never forget hiking up Table Mountain and once we finally made it to the top, (after what seemed like being on the stair-stepper for an hour) the view was hands-down the best I have ever seen! It is a moment that I will never forget as it made all my daily stressors seem insignificant! Beyond that, the chance to go on an African safari was all I had ever hoped for and more – getting to see lions, giraffes, zebras, and cheetahs in their natural habitat and not caged up at the zoo! And lastly, nothing will top great white shark cage diving! I could go on and on about this experience, but every time a great white shark came up to the cage as we were inside, I would immediately surface saying “THAT WAS SO COOL!” again and again until our time in the cage was up and I was still saying it!
Before I knew it, our three weeks were already over and I returned home with so many new experiences, skills and perspectives. This inspired me to not only become an ambassador with Student Athletes Abroad, but to also apply for a second trip to Phuket, Thailand. I was beyond thankful to be accepted again to travel to Phuket for a whole different experience. This time around I got to travel with my teammate, and we were met by three other student-athletes. Immediately, our small group became a family that still keeps in touch everyday!
While in Phuket, we stayed at Thanyapura Active Living Center, which had incredible training facilities and healthy food that we truly took advantage of as athletes, ourselves. This facility became host to the FOBISIA Friendly Games, which we played a role as managers in putting the games on. These games brought in 300+ kids aged 8-12, coaches, as well as staff from several British international schools across Asia. Here, we helped with the opening ceremonies, scoring and awards for the swimming events, umpiring for tee ball, facilitating the track and field events, and officiating the soccer matches. Clayton, the overseer and manager for these games, took us under his wing and was absolutely amazing in challenging us, as well as allowing us to get experience in areas that we were most interested in!
I gained so many new skills within such a short time period. For instance, within two days of being there I had learned how to run the Hytek desk for a swim meet, score high jump, and umpire tee-ball. Some days we would work up to 12 hours, but other days we would have completely off to travel and explore Phuket. I cannot begin to explain how beautiful Phuket was to explore from James Bond Island, to Phi Phi Islands, to floating gypsy villages, to canoeing through sea caves, and even getting to bathe in the mud with rescued elephants!
When comparing my two trips, I cannot necessarily pick a favorite as both had so many amazing aspects to them. No matter what though, both trips opened my eyes to new experiences and reminded me to live in the moment. In comparing the two, starting with South Africa – the country, culture and food was amazing, I fell in love with marketing, I got to use sports as a resource to give back to the local community, and the wildlife excursions were surreal! Yet, in Thailand – the small group of interns became a family, the accommodations, food, and training facilities were outstanding, the island scenery and activities were forever breathtaking, and I gained over 100+ hours of sports management experience in such a short time! Still, lastly and most importantly, regardless of the trip, I learned and took away so much thanks to the amazing Student Athletes Abroad staff, Grant and Nawaal, as well as Sports Camps Australia and FOBISIA Games manager, Clayton!