Thomas Jefferson once said that some of the happiest moments of his life were spent when he was with his family. Chandler Follett would agree, but the senior goalkeeper for UNCW’s women’s soccer team has a distinct advantage over Jefferson: she has a second family.
Follett spent the spring semester studying abroad in Granada, located in southern Spain. However, it wasn’t simply an international excursion, it was a five month immersion into Spanish culture.
She went to Spain with the goal of becoming fluent in Spanish, and while she accomplished that goal, those in her host home did not just provide a place to live for the extended stay, they became a second family for her.
“It was like I was living the life I live here over in Granada,” Follett said.
Her new-found family helped Follett through the difficult transition, as she went to classes taught completely in Spanish. English was even banned from the classroom. As time went by, the connection only deepened.
“I became their fifth child. Their mom was 100 percent my mom,” Follett said.
In the midst of her stay, Follett’s parents and oldest brother traveled from their home in Plano, Texas, to Granada to visit.
“I had no idea how it was going to go, but just the look on everyone’s faces was amazing,” Follett said. “We just sat at dinner and my brother was talking to my other brother, and my sister was talking to my mom. Everyone was somehow connecting despite the complete language barrier.”
It was a moment, Follett said, she will never forget.
“I always wanted my family in Spain to see the family I talked about in America, and my family in America to see the family I talked about in Spain,” Follett said. “All of them are so amazing.”
Though Follett could have never guessed she would become so close to people in a foreign land, studying abroad was always something she wanted to do.
Follett’s head coach with the Seahawks, Paul Cairney, said that the topic was even discussed early in the recruiting process when Follett was a sophomore in high school. In fact, the study abroad program was a big factor in her decision to come to UNCW.
But there were still obstacles in the process. Studying abroad is a demanding commitment, and there aren’t many student-athletes playing on the NCAA Division I level who have the time to take on the challenge. For Follett, many of her fellow student-athletes in SAAC, the Student-Athlete Advisor Committee, were surprised when she told them she was going abroad.
“It’s not common at all,” Follett said. “It’s very, very difficult as a student-athlete to leave, because we have such a strict schedule here.”
Follett missed spring practice, strength and speed conditioning workouts, and all of the camaraderie-building activities that occur during the offseason. But Cairney, originally from Scotland, is confident that Follett can make a full transition. He was in complete support of Follett’s decision.
“I had the opportunity to go abroad. And we shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to experience travel and different cultures,” Cairney said.
Now that Follett’s back on campus, she’s not missing a beat as the Seahawks get ready for the 2011 season. Through her first three years, Follett has played in 33 matches, posting 11 shutouts, which ranks third in the school’s record books. The senior will also be serving as president of UNCW’s SAAC this year.
For Follett, the experience in Spain is not forgotten. One day, she wants to return across the Atlantic to see her Spanish friends and second family.
“I promised the people who touched me so deeply that I would go back. I will go back, but it is a matter of when,” she said.
For now, Follett’s fluency in Spanish stands as a reminder of the hard work she put in. As a double major in Spanish and biology who hopes to attend pharmacy school, she plans to help as many people as she can, and the challenges she faced as a student-athlete and in Spain will help her do so.
“In life you will face adversity and in soccer we’ve had both ups and downs,” Follett said. “With Spain, there was some interesting adversity. You are seeing things you’ve never seen before. There is so much adversity in the world, but you just need to realize that there are positives and you need to focus on making a difference.”