The wonderful thing about being a swimmer is that you have extended family almost anywhere in the world that you go. In early June I headed to Santiago, Chile for the wedding of an Olympic Swimmer, who I affectionately refer to as my Chilean brother. When I studied abroad as a part of my International Relations major at Stanford, I knew I wanted to continue training. So, my coach called the Chilean Swimming Federation to find out if there was a “swimming family” close to our Stanford campus in Santiago that would be willing to host me during my semester there (and let me tag along to the pool!). Sure enough, The Schnettlers, offered to take me in. They were the parents of three kids who were all on the swim team, and coincidentally, all of their names start with the letter M! The oldest is Max. At the time, he was in high school and not an Olympian just yet.
The Schnettlers took excellent care of me, and practically adopted me as one of their own. So did their local swim team, Stadio Italiano. I had an instant family and an automatic support group. Thanks to my swimming connections, my experience was wholly different than that of my fellow students. I made friends and connections that would I would return to visit multiple times.
I also feel that I was immersed in the language far more, because I was spending my social time with the swim team rather than my English speaking classmates. Sure we all tried to speak only Spanish when we were together, but it didn’t take long for us to resume our native tongue. I remember being at barbecue parties with my Chilean teammates during the first few weeks and feeling terrible when they had to stop the conversation to explain what was so funny to me. I worked hard on my Spanish so that I could simply begin to understand the jokes and participate in the conversation. I knew I had come along way in my language skills when at my going away party I was actually able to tell a joke!
One of my favorite moments of my life was getting to watch Max swim for Chile in the 200m Freestyle in the Athens Olympics alongside the rest of my Chilean family. I can’t wait to visit my Chilean family again and celebrate Max’s special day. Of course, he is marrying a swimmer! I am also proud and excited to say that I also gave a speech in Spanish at the Universidad Autonoma de Chile while I was there. An appearance that Max helped arrange for me.
When you travel be sure to reach out to the local swim team or triathlete club. At the very least you’ll find a place to continue training, and at the very best you will make friends that will change your life forever.