The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team experienced the Steger Center for International Scholarship for just one afternoon during a nine-day tour of Switzerland and Italy this summer, but head coach Mike Young said that short time will have a lifelong impact.
“I think 13 of our 15 players had never been outside the continental United States. That’s a transformational experience,” he said. “Invariably, when those guys get together — five years from now, 10 years from now, throughout life for homecomings, and when they come back to campus with former teammates — rather quickly in that conversation, something will be said about going to Switzerland, going to Milan, Italy. What a great, great experience that was. They’ll never forget that.”
NCAA regulations allow Division I teams to take a foreign tour only once every four years. In August, the Hokies embarked on their journey through the heart of Europe. Because of the tour, the NCAA granted the team an additional 10 practices leading up to the departure. The coaches used this extra training, and the trip itself, to further develop team chemistry and accelerate the implementation of offensive and defensive schemes at a much earlier point in the year.
During their travels, the Hokies got not only a refreshing taste of competition against semiprofessional teams but also a taste of something President Tim Sands calls a key part of the Virginia Tech experience: studying abroad.
They played two games — both victories — and visited seven cities. Getting to explore nearby destinations, they learned, is one of the many perks of staying at the Steger Center, strategically located just north of Milan in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland. Many students use the center as a place to launch excursions — filling their semester with weekend trips around Switzerland and across Europe.
“We didn’t have long with the team at the center, but we did everything we could to give them the full experience. Our cooks, our student life coordinator, and our whole staff rallied together to give them tours of the center and Riva San Vitale and, of course, an excellent aperitivo followed by dinner,” said Sara Steinert Borella, executive director of the Steger Center, part of Outreach and International Affairs.
“In Switzerland, being so far away from home and in a new country, nothing is familiar and you obviously don’t know anyone. But, when we go to the Steger Center and saw the Virginia Tech flags flying and a lot of friendly faces, it was like having an extension of home,” said one of the newest members of the team, forward Robbie Beran, a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Beran said the Steger Center is almost a microcosm of everything he loved about Europe: exposure to a rich and different history, culture, and food as well as a chance to meet new people and build community. Processing all that he saw and experienced there will take weeks, he said — from the art and historical features in the center’s historic Villa Maderni to the kitchen staff and their amazing meals, and everything he learned from the Steger Center staff.
“I got to experience something that I might not experience otherwise. In a normal academic year, I’m never going to study abroad because of my basketball schedule. So it was cool to kind of see what it is like,” Beran said. “I got to have a whole lot of different conversations, like talking to the other team during our games in Italy. It really made me realize how similar we all are.”
Theresa Johansson, director of the Global Education Office, said studying abroad is an integral part of the Hokie experience.
“It combines all the tenets that make Virginia Tech such a wonderful place to learn — such as service, stewardship, exploration, self-discovery, community and global engagement, and growth through challenge,” she said. “Even short-term trips can have a tremendous impact on a person’s education, future career, and worldview.”
As a player, Beran saw benefits of this brief European tour for his team and their upcoming season.
“This was a great way for us to build team camaraderie,” he said. “We felt it when we were all playing the right way. We got beautiful shots. And we got to test ourselves against good competition.”
The women’s basketball team also took advantage of the opportunity for an international tour this summer. They played two games and spent seven days in Greece. Among the highlights was a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games.
On Nov. 6, both teams will host a season-opening doubleheader at Cassell Coliseum. The men will take on Coppin State, and the women will face High Point.
Virginia Tech Athletics