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Running with the Bulls

By Ashley Stone

Running with the bulls is both a literal and figurative expression, explaining the culturally enriching and diverse experiences had by five Nebraska letterwinner alumni who utilized Post-Eligibility Opportunity (PEO) funds for study abroad experiences this summer.

Those participating in experiences abroad, included:

  • Matt Gilbert and Jacob Olson (track and field) who spent six weeks in Spain learning about the history of Barcelona,
  • Jennie Laeng and Coleman Tokar (gymnastics) who spent four weeks in Peru studying public health, community wellness and sustainability techniques, and
  • Nicole Schwery (swimming and diving) who spent four weeks in France learning about human mobility through artificial limb rehabilitation.

Upon traveling to different countries, multiple aspects of their experiences were similar: becoming submerged in the country’s culture, enjoying cultural excursions, and dreaming of their next international experience.

“Through Urban Barcelona, we became more than just tourists,” said Olson. “We were able to adapt and fit in with the local culture through learning about the history of Barcelona, eating at the best places in town, participating in memorable cultural experiences and learning a number of interesting facts. For example, you will never see a Spanish flag in Barcelona because the Catalan people do not see themselves as part of Spain. Catalan is actually Barcelona’s first language as opposed to Spanish.”

Similarly, while Laeng has traveled abroad before, her experience made her feel completely connected to the culture, language, challenges and communities of Peru.

“Journeying all over Peru, we were submerged into a different Peruvian culture with each city we visited, including Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes and Andahuaylillas,” said Laeng. “My most memorable trip was visiting the shanty towns and learning about the challenges the people of the villages have to overcome on a daily basis, including contaminated water, unsafe mountain terrain and lack of sanitary waste disposal.”

Outside of course-related learning, all travelers participated in cultural-stimulating and significant experiences, some of which made them step further outside their comfort zone than others.

“Two of our favorite excursions were going to Morocco and Pamplona,” said Olson of his and Gilbert’s experience in Spain (pictured above). “In Morocco, we experienced the huge market that filled up the city square every night, rode camels out into the Sahara desert and spent the night under the stars. My favorite excursion was running with the bulls in Pamplona – the adrenaline rush of seeing those massive creatures charge up the hill at us was insane and the atmosphere of the festival was something I have never before experienced.”

Opposite of Olson’s breath-catching experience, Laeng’s cultural experiences turned into breathtaking memories.

“Our main excursion, outside of our classwork in the field, was visiting Manchu Picchu,” said Laeng. “We learned about the Incan civilization, observed the Andean celebration of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and took an hour-long hike up to the Sun Gate overlooking all of the ruins – it was breathtaking.”

Letterwinners returned from their experiences with new knowledge, confidence and an outlook on life, noting this summer as a “dream come true” and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Whether running with the bulls literally in Pamplona or figuratively by stepping outside their comfort zones, travelers are continually thankful to participate in PEO-funded experiences that further distinguish them from others and better prepare them for life after sports.


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