Aug. 24, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Some things really are meant to be and given enough time, the stars will align just right.
Such was the case for Georgia Tech softball senior outfielder Samantha Pierannunzi, who got to live the opportunity of a lifetime, and fulfill a lifetime goal of hers, by studying for a month in Spain over the summer.
“I’d always been told by people, ‘One thing you need to do is study abroad,’” said the Suwanee, Ga. native. “It was always something that I was interested in but I had no idea where I would go or what I would do.”
When turned out to be the bigger obstacle, as Pierannunzi, who has been taking Spanish minor classes, was at the mercy of softball, playing it during spring semester and training for it during the fall.
Facing the final summer as an undergrad, things finally worked in her favor via a program called the Language for Business and Technology or LBAT.
The name, LBAT, was a good omen for the three-year centerfielder.
Another good sign was that Spain was a destination for 2016.
Even the timing worked, as the study program went from June 25 through July 27, well after the softball season — Pierannunzi made sure there would be no scheduling conflict.
With all the stars aligned, all that was left was permission from softball head coach Shelly Hoerner.
“She couldn’t have been more supportive about it,” Pierannunzi said. “It’s kind of hard to tell your coach, ‘Hey, Coach, I know you expect me to be TRAINING this summer but I wanted to move my summer training over to another country.’ She was like, ‘Absolutely! Go. Experience it. It’s going to make you a better athlete; it’s going to make you a better person.’”
Pierannunzi left for Spain with 20 other Georgia Tech students.
“I did not know a single one of them, I did not know either of the professors that went over,” she said. “It was basically book my ticket, then pick a random roommate off the list then go over to Spain and meet new people and learn a new language. To be dumped off in another country, to have to learn a new language and make friends and meet people, it was really, really cool. It was a huge growing experience.”
Of course, it also was a learning experience. She took classes in socioeconomics, where she learned about the Spanish government and political, social and economic systems, while in Madrid, then a two-week class on sustainability, while in Granada, where she learned about alternative energy sources, including seeing the first solar panels.
“Nothing at Georgia Tech is easy,” Pierannunzi said, with a laugh. “I was not going to get any easy classes and I liked it that way because it was a really challenging way for me to learn the language and actually understand the culture, understand the place that I was living in.”
When she wasn’t in class she was exploring the country.
Pierannunzi toured Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona, Toledo, Granada, and Valencia, where she went the final two weekends, documenting the trip with a blog (To read Sam’s blog visit http://samintheciudad.blogspot.com).
The entire time, she challenged herself to speak Spanish.
“I was like, ‘If I’m here I’m going to speak Spanish every second I’m here,’” she said. “Of course, I did speak English with the people in my program but I loved going out to stores after class, we would go out to coffee shops, we would go to restaurants and try to talk to as many people as we could because it’s the best way to practice.
“It was a lot of fun because they could tell right off the bat but I improved so much in a matter of a month that I could definitely hold my own in another country with it,” she said. “Sometimes I would start speaking Spanish to them and if they knew English they would say, ‘Do you want me to speak English?’ I would be like, ‘No, no. I’m learning.’ When I told them that I was trying to learn Spanish, that I was studying it, they were super-nice and understanding and very helpful. They would love to talk to me whenever I told them that.”
The only blip along the way came early in the trip trying to buy a train ticket.
“My Spanish was a little rusty and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to communicate with the guy at this train station,” she said. “He did not speak English and we couldn’t figure it out. Imagine going through the airport, and trying to put together words to not just get you there but also spend a good chunk of money trying to get there. You wait for a couple of hours to try and get this done and then, all of a sudden, it’s your turn and you can’t do it. I left that day and I felt like a little kid that couldn’t figure out how to ride a bike. I was like, ‘I’m going through this if it’s the last thing I do.’ So I tried the next day and I didn’t leave until I figured it out.”
Sam and her classmates also figured out how to celebrate July 4 while in Madrid.
“It was bizarre,” she admitted. “We definitely got some looks from people whenever we would walk up the streets, because we were a loud group of Americans. We thought, ‘How can we celebrate the Fourth and still respect the country we’re in?’ So we went to a park, bought a bunch of hot dogs and some ice cream and we went and hung out. They had a lake and paddle boats, so we paddle-boated around. We didn’t shoot off any fireworks because we didn’t want to cause a scene. I don’t think that would have gone over too well. We all wore American flag t-shirts. So I’m sure it was interesting to watch.”
As expected, time to train was at a premium, and Pierannunzi noted that she was tempted to try to get some road work in with The Running of the Bulls but talked herself out of it.
“I told myself, ‘I should. I’m athletic enough. I can hold my own,’” she said, with a laugh. “[Running of the bulls] is a cool part of their culture but they also have other big stuff that’s much safer. They have this festival near Valencia, where they basically bring in truck loads and truck loads of tomatoes and everybody goes out in the street and throws tomatoes at each other. That would have been more up my alley if I would have been able to go to it. It’s a lot safer. I would have gotten some throwing in that way.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t get to do “La Tomatina,” aka the world’s biggest food fight, as it took place in August — it’s something for what she hopes will be a future trip to Spain — so she stuck with more pedestrian activities, like sight-seeing and even taking in a movie, which provided an interesting challenge.
The movie was “Buscando a Dory,” (Finding Dory).
“I wanted to watch it in Spanish first because I thought it would be a good test and then come back and watch it in English and see if there’s anything I missed,” she said. “I think I got it.”
Sam also found a friendly face in former Georgia Tech women’s basketball player and Oliva, native Irene Gari. The two had met on campus last fall during a women’s athletics social, bonded over Pierannunzi’s trip and arranged to meet in Spain. Gari made the trip to Madrid and later in the trip invited Sam out to Oliva. Sam admitted she felt right at home.
“She introduced me to three of her friends. It was as if I had been their best friend for years,” she said. “They couldn’t speak hardly any English so for me to be able to build a relationship with them meant so much more because they worked so hard to be able to communicate with me.”
Breaking down the language barrier throughout the trip was not only rewarding for Pierannunzi but gave her some insight into the life of international students at Georgia Tech.
“We have so many international student-athletes that speak other languages. I understand now the struggle for them to be able to adjust,” she said. “It makes me understand the importance of communicating with people and giving people grace. How many communication issues occur even among people that speak the same language? It makes me appreciate if you don’t understand something the first time, if you don’t understand why people do the things they do, try and understand where they’re coming from. Try and understand what they’re trying to say. It was eye-opening and empowering.”
It’s with eyes open and senses fully awakened that Pierannunzi prepared to start her senior year. She credits the trip abroad.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in the same daily routine. You lose that hunger, that desire to try new things and improve yourself and build new relationships,” she said. “When I went to Spain and I realized how limited my time was it was like every second of the day was an opportunity to see something and do something new.
“I’m so excited for the year and I’m so excited for the relationships I’m going to get to build with my teammates and for the opportunities,” she added. “It’s my senior year. They already say it goes by fast and to cherish every moment. Now it’s going to mean so much more. What an incredible year I have ahead and what an incredible opportunity we have as a team and we have as a program. As cliché as it sounds, embrace every moment, attack every moment and not just sit and let this year go by. With my teammates, take advantage and make something incredible happen. I feel so empowered to do that now.”