Story by Mark Price, Beyond Study Abroad

SIOUX FALLS, SD -- Sam Gotham, a senior from Eden Prairie, Minn., spent his summer doing what most Vikings ballplayers do—playing baseball and training. However, his experience was unique from the rest of his teammates' in one significant manner—Gotham played his summer ball in Costa Rica while studying abroad.

Many Augustana student-athletes face extreme challenges when hoping to partake in another of college's great academic supports—the study-abroad experience. In baseball, both the summer and fall off-seasons are crucial to a player's preparation for the upcoming spring season.

“As a Spanish major, I had been talking with Cathy Lindamood in our International Programs Office about potential study abroad opportunities for the summer,” Gotham said. “But as a baseball player none of them would have really worked for me.“

Two weeks after their initial discussions, though, Lindamood forwarded Gotham a link to the website for Beyond Study Abroad, a study abroad program for student-athletes in Costa Rica that would allow Gotham to maintain his personal commitment to the Augustana baseball program.

“I read the entire website the first time I went to it because it seemed a little too good to be true. The ability to continue to play baseball and workout while studying abroad was perfect. I told Cathy that it was something I think I wanted to check out a little more, and a couple weeks later it was all set.”

Gotham enjoyed the traditional study abroad offerings—earning foreign language credit, living with a host family, and traveling to exotic Central American locales—in addition to training alongside athletes from other sports and colleges across the United States. Furthermore, the Beyond baseball team also played a slate of 15 games and conducted weekly youth baseball camps.

Gotham found that baseball was not simply an additional offering in his program, but a fundamental element of his entire experience abroad.

“Going into it, I knew that studying abroad would help my language skills, but I had no idea that so much of it would come from baseball,” Gotham said. “We had a few Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans play with us this summer. The cool thing about that is that you don't need to speak the same language to play the game. Baseball is unique in that there is a lot of down time to just simply hang out. The guys we played with were eager to share anything about local culture, practice their English, laugh at our Spanish, or just hang out. Much of my Spanish was learned through conversations with them.”

In addition to playing regularly in Costa Rica, the Beyond baseball team also traveled to Nicaragua to play against the Nicaragua Baseball Academy, owned by former major leaguer Dennis Martinez and designed to groom Nicaragua's best talent for a chance at the major leagues.

“The trip up to Nicaragua was awesome,” Gotham said. “The field we played at was on the edge of Lake Nicaragua with a volcano in the distance. These kids, only about 15-17, were very talented. During those games a bunch of locals would come and watch. Our dugout turned into the hangout for the local kids, excited to see these gringos play baseball.”

Beyond the games, Gotham was also able to engage with the Costa Rican culture by conducting sports clinics in local communities.

“The camps in Veinticinco de Julio, an impoverished barrio in San Jose, were eye-opening,” Gotham said. “I had never experienced that level of poverty before. However, when we would arrive, the kids would run down the street yelling that the gringos arrived.”

“The kids just wanted to throw a football, shoot some hoops, and usually play a game of soccer. During those couple of hours they were the happiest kids on Earth. They didn't know that they were poor; they were just excited that a group of gringos came to hang out with them.”

Ultimately, that personal connection was the common thread that made each aspect of Gotham's summer everything he was hoping to gain from the study abroad experience.

“I think an underrated part of the program is the home stay,” Gotham said. “The family I stayed with was awesome. I think this is one of the best ways to learn a foreign language. I found that my 8-year-old brother was easiest to understand, and he always wanted to play, so I liked talking to him and playing soccer in the garage.”

And with those personal connections he made, Gotham left understanding more than geographical differences—he left appreciating a completely different way of going about life.

“Americans are stereotyped for our 'always have to be doing something, being early is being on time' way of life,” noted Gotham. “Pura Vida is the opposite. Down in Costa Rica, they use this phrase Pura Vida for everything. Literally translating to 'pure life', it means so much more, implying a general laid back, easygoing way of life. I think this was the biggest difference in our respective cultures.”

With his final summer break's adventures in tow, Gotham is set to graduate next May after a fulfilling four years of Augustana academics and baseball, ready to take on whatever the world has to offer.