The opportunity to study abroad is something that University of Richmond students take full advantage of during their college careers. For football’s Griffin Trau, it was no different.
As part of his major in International Studies, Trau needed to go abroad for a semester; however, the demands of being student-athlete made that a bit of a challenge. In recent years, the athletic department has made it a priority to give student-athletes every possible opportunity to study abroad during summer terms and Trau took advantage.
Like most college students who go abroad, deciding on where to study wasn’t easy.
“It was kind of difficult for me figuring out where I was going to go,” said Trau. “I needed to be somewhere where I could keep up with what I needed to do for football, but at the same time I needed valuable experience.”
After deciding on New Zealand, Trau worked with a program called International Studies Abroad (ISA), which is a placement service that finds students a place to stay during the duration of their trip abroad, along with a job or internship opportunity. Trau landed an internship with the New Zealand Institute of Sport, where he spent eight weeks in Wellington, New Zealand this summer.
The New Zealand Institute of Sport is a higher education organization. For some athletes it serves somewhat as an in-between phase from high school athletics to an elite level, while for others it’s a pathway to all types of careers in sport.
Being a student-athlete, Trau was fortunate enough to see a different aspect of the sporting world. From his office in Westpac Stadium, Trau’s internship was focused more on marketing and development, but it wasn’t exactly your typical internship.
“I actually got really lucky as I was there during a transition phase,” he said. “Rather than coming in and playing the tradition intern role, I really got treated like a staff member right off the bat, which was really cool and a great experience. I worked in marketing and development and played a number of roles. For the first couple of weeks it was literally wherever I was needed, but I ended up finding myself in the middle of fairly important decisions, and putting together things that would play a big role in day-to-day operations of the organization.”
He didn’t stop there though as he also had the opportunity to work in media development where he worked with the Deputy CEO and the head of marketing and development on marketing research for the organization.
“It was a great experience and I learned a lot. It is something that I will look back on fondly,” said Trau. “Everything fell into place.”
Studying abroad is not only an incredible academic experience, but it also gives students the opportunity to be immersed in a completely different culture. Working in sport, Trau saw how different the sporting culture was in New Zealand.
“It starts with how they treat sport in general. Being active and being fit is really a central part of life in New Zealand, and competition in sport is very common. They also have a very strong national pride, particularly in rugby, and through that you start to see how as a nation they build this cultural identity that includes sport.”
Whenever Trau wasn’t working at the New Zealand Institute of Sport, he took full advantage of the scenic beauty the country has to offer.
“I don’t think I saw anything in New Zealand that I wouldn’t consider scenic or beautiful,” he said. “Even when we would have an office trip to visit a secondary school, just being on the road is something very different. The geographic diversity is incredible and there’s also tens of millions of sheep in the country, and that adds to the landscape – it gives it a lot of depth. You have these huge rolling hills and for miles all you can see is little white specks in the countryside. If you go down south, you see alpine mountains and being wintertime in New Zealand, that’s really a spectacular thing to see. Then you have coastline, and if you walk 20 feet in, you’re in what looks like rain forest.”
It is hard for Trau to pick out one of his favorite weekend adventures exploring New Zealand, but he said one of the highlights was Tongariro National Park.
“I went and hiked the alpine trail with a couple of friends and that was an amazing experience, not just because it was incredibly difficult, but also because we summited Mount Ngauruhoe,” said Trau. “From the top of that mountain you can see so far – the view from up there was stunning. It was worth the three-hour climb from the base of the mountain.”
Away from the New Zealand Institute of Sport and exploring the country, Trau didn’t forget about football. He maintained a workout schedule even while on the other side of the globe.
“I have to give Coach Stewart a lot of credit. He has never sent me away without a really good plan. I always know what I need to do when I leave,” Trau said. “At first I was a little nervous about finding facilities, but I actually worked in a number of weight rooms around Wellington. I was fortunate enough to get their best facilities, whether they were the New Zealand Institute of Sport in its sports performance-training lab, or downtown at one of the bigger gyms. On top of that, the terrain of New Zealand was built for getting in shape and staying that way. Even the long hikes that I took part, that really helped me stay in shape. In terms of finding fields and places to kick, that was never an issue – rugby posts are a little bit shorter and a little bit narrower than field goal posts, but when it really comes down to it they are perfect.”
As preseason is underway and the academic year is upon us, Trau is thankful for the experience he had this summer in New Zealand.
“The biggest takeaway for me was the real world experience as well as the global and cultural experience of being in different place,” he said. “I met some really great people, who really enjoy and care about their work, and it was great to learn how very successful people operate outside of a sporting world. The people that I worked with all summer taught me a lot, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity that I got.”