The Good Word | by Jon Cooper
The primary mission of student-athletes during the off-season is to do things to make themselves better.
At Georgia Tech that can mean improving yourself on the student side first, with the long-term benefit of actually improving both.
Yellow Jackets volleyball junior defensive specialist Emily Becker believes it will for her.
Becker, a Biology major, took that route, crossing the Atlantic to participate in the BEST (Biomolecular Engineering, Science, and Technology) program, which spent nine weeks over the summer studying in France.
“it wasn’t a very good workout summer. It was a break for me,” said the Tucker, Ga., native. “I was really interested in going abroad. It was something that I always wanted to do, especially in college. I spoke to (Head Coach) Michelle (Collier) about it and she was really behind the idea. It worked really well.”
Becker studied under the tutelage of Dr. Cameron Tyson, he’s the assistant dean for College of Sciences,
“Dr. Tyson was so great,” said Becker, who took classes in organic chemistry II and synthesis lab, as part of a group of 40 students. “He is an awesome teacher and he is a great leader at Georgia Tech. It was just an incredible experience.”
The experience allowed the group to venture to such places as CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research), in Geneva, Switzerland, the home of the world’s largest particle accelerator, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which was founded in 1887, and has forged medical breakthroughs including vaccines for anthrax and rabies, and has been at the forefront in the fight against AIDS — it was where HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was first isolated.
“CERN was incredible,” she said. “We also went as a group to the Pasteur Institute, and got to observe a lab there and talk to researchers there.”
Lectures and the occasional trips took care of Monday through Thursday. The rest of the week was time to be adventurous, exploring Europe.
“We were studying very hard during the week so we could travel on the weekends,” she said. “There were long days, many hours inside small, un-air conditioned cafes, and un-air conditioned libraries so that come Thursday or Friday after class we could hop on a plane or a bus or a train and go somewhere for the weekend.”
An added adventure for Becker was getting to know non-student-athletes, as she was the only student-athlete on the trip.
“That was, honestly, very unique to see what the perspective and experience is for students who don’t do what I do,” she said. “It really was fun to bond with them and travel and kind of have some autonomy of what we wanted to see and places we wanted to go and what it’s like to try and book a trip and navigating a city where you don’t know the language and you don’t know anyone there and you’re just trying to figure it out. It was very exciting.”
Over the 10 weeks of the trip, Becker got to go all over Europe, visiting, by her count, 11 cities in six different countries — Bern, Geneva and Interlaken in Switzerland, Provence, Paris, Annecy, and the Beaujolais wine region of France, Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Rome, Italy; and Barcelona, Spain.
While Emily may have been the only student-athlete on the trip, she still was able to find a friendly face, as her older sister, Sarah, lives in Madrid, where she teaches English to elementary school students.
“It really was wild being able to visit her. To see a familiar face, see some family in Europe was really awesome. It was a great way to kick off the summer.”
Other highlights of the trip were visiting Beaujolais and “canyoning” — scaling down a mountain side — in Interlaken, a town in the Swiss Alps. That activity, and simply being in Interlaken, was also unique, taking place with the backdrop of the Alps.
“Interlaken is this really small, pretty touristy town in the Alps, so it’s completely surrounded by humongous, snow-capped mountains,” she said. “It was warm outside, we were wearing shorts and t-shirts and there are these giant snow-capped mountains just completely engulfing the city. It’s beautiful. Canyoning was definitely an adventure. That ranked high in the fun, outdoorsy kind of experiences.”
While Emily enjoyed reaching the bottom of a mountain in Switzerland, she also would be in Paris when the people of France were celebrating their national soccer team reaching the summit of one — winning the World Cup.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “The same weekend also was Bastille Day, France’s Independence Day. That was on Saturday. Of course, the main event was on Sunday. Evereyone was out in the streets, everyone was so happy. It was like the second France won, people were just flooding out into the streets. It was great. It lasted all night long. It was incredible! To see that level of patriotism, it was fun to pretend like I wasn’t a foreigner for that day.”
Becker returned to the States on July 18 and while she admittedly hadn’t had as much opportunity to train as she would have liked — she followed a workout program from Strength Coach Scott McDonald as best she could, running and stretching in a nearby park — she still feels the time in Europe was beneficial to her as an athlete.
“It refreshed my passion,” she said. “It’s given me a new perspective on what it means to be a part of this team. You don’t miss something until you don’t have it anymore. So it gave me the opportunity to really miss volleyball, really miss being around the girls and that environment, where you’re being pushed every day.
“I missed the girls,” she added. “But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”