By Rachel Timmerman, Athletic Communications Student Intern
It was a warm Sunday morning in July when 14 Gopher student-athletes and staff filled a bus for an eight-hour drive to a foreign land - Canada.
En route to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Gopher Global was on its way to its first international service trip. This is the third trip, following South Dakota and Chicago.
"The trip in general was just a huge step for Gopher Global," Kelsey Joson, founder of the program and former Gopher athlete said. "Being able to go [abroad] is something that I've always wanted and envisioned for the non-profit."
The volunteer organization is a collaboration between Gopher student-athletes and alumni looking to serve communities nationally and internationally. Athletes included Becca Weiland (Swim), Tereza Brichacova (Tennis), Derek Wiebke (Track&Field/Cross Country), Tess Wasowicz (Track&Field/Cross Country), Elli Arvesen (Soccer), Sam Macken, Sydney Fabian, Danielle Parlich, Paige Palkovich, and Erica Meyer (Softball).
On their first morning in Winnipeg, the volunteers spent time at homeless shelter Siloam Mission - a new experience for many.
"I think that it's something more people should experience," track/cross-country athlete Derek Wiebke said of volunteering at the homeless shelter. "I think all the student-athletes that went, it was a new perspective for them and I think they all gained from that."
For Tess Wasowicz, track/cross-country athlete and Gopher Global student-athlete chair, her experience talking to people at the homeless shelter was the most eye opening.
"That was really cool because we got to interact on some common level," Wasowicz said. "It was more of a relationship or a connection instead of this wall between us and them."
During their four-day trip, the group also volunteered at Winnipeg Harvest, packaging and sorting food.
One of Joson's favorite things about the trip was not having any cell service.
"It really forced us to get out of our comfort zone of always being on our phone, and just enjoy wherever you are [and] the people you're with," Joson said.
For alumna Joson, the trip created a sense of community between current and former Gopher athletes.
"There were a lot of softball girls [on the trip], and I could see myself going to a couple softball games this year with my daughter to support them like they supported me with Gopher Global," Joson said.
Wiebke saw the trip as a way to not only serve, but also as an alternative to studying abroad.
"As a student-athlete, you don't get a lot of opportunities to study abroad or get some of those experiences," Wiebke said. "Even though Gopher Global is only a couple days or a week traveling, it's something that a student-athlete can fit in their schedule."
It's also something that student-athletes can afford, as the Gopher Global volunteers fundraise year-round to cover all the costs.
And the team has already begun thinking about their next international location, using the trip to Canada as a building block.
"We crossed an international border, it was a really cool experience but now we want to take it further," Wasowicz said. "The biggest part that we have taken away, and that we can apply to our future trips, is that we need to go in with the mindset of that we're ready to learn about a new environment and learn about new ways to help people in need."
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