This summer, 11 Husky football and softball players participated in a unique study abroad program to Tahiti. Facilitated by UW Athletics and the Department of Anthropology, the two-week-long program allowed UW student-athletes to connect with Tahitian community members by sharing their passion for sport. The program’s shorter time frame allowed them to maintain their rigorous training schedule. Participating student-athletes made big sacrifices to join the trip. “They had to choose between [using the break] to visit family or study abroad,” says Liberty Bracken, an Academic Adviser for UW Student-Athlete Academic Services who coordinated the program.
While in Tahiti, the UW football players facilitated nightly clinics for 5 Tahitian-American football teams. The softball players introduced local women and girls to their female-dominated sport. Female athletes are a novelty in Tahiti, where most women do not participate in organized sports. “Watching [UW softball player] Kaitlin Inglesby pitch was very impressive… the women began to think of the players as great role models for Tahitian girls,” says Bracken. Off the field, the Husky athletes connected with Tahitian culture by teaching English through PE classes at Punavai Elementary School, where they met with 17 classes and over 400 students.
The trip was also academically focused, and the student-athletes engaged in lectures and field trips related to topics of local interest, including the impact of decolonization and nuclear testing. In addition, the athletes kept journals to note their observations about Tahitian culture, politics, language, and identity.
UW football and softball players made meaningful and long-lasting connections with the Tahitian community through the program. “The kindness and generosity of the UW athletes in coaching and mentoring Tahitian teams made a huge difference,” says Bracken, “the student athletes were so open to learning about the Tahitian players’ lives and journeys… football and softball helped to facilitate that.”
When it was time for the student-athletes to return home, over 60 community members came to the airport to bid them farewell. The emotional sendoff was a fitting end to a transformative experience for 11 Huskies, in which, as they put it, “Tahiti became our second home.”