Student-athletes don't usually get the opportunity to study in another country. Their daily schedules are filled with practice sessions and significant academic responsibilities.
With the exception of road trips, it's nearly impossible for them to get away from campus. The summer months offer a rare break from their strict regimen, and the George Washington University women's basketball team will take advantage of the slower time to "study abroad."
The Colonials will spend Aug. 13-23 in England and France, where they will serve as ambassadors of the university and meet several European teams in exhibitions. The players and coaching staff will fly from Dulles to London Aug. 13.
"During the search process, [school president] Patrick Nero explained that George Washington had a diverse and international population," said head coach Jonathan Tsipis, who is entering his third season at the school. "When I got the job, I looked at the best time to take the team to other countries. We wanted to go to places where the players might not get back to again, so we looked at a combination of England, France and Spain."
The England-France combination won out. The players will have the chance to get acquainted with English and French culture in meetings with former George Washington men's basketball standout and England native Pops Mensah-Bonsu and the French Alliance.
"Only four of our players had passports, and only two had been to Europe," Tsipis said. "We will do some work ahead of time, so that our kids know what they are going to see. We're looking forward to meeting with Pops, to get his thoughts and share his wisdom."
Basketball will be a part of the excursion, but Tsipis said he wanted the main focus to be the cultural benefits of an overseas trip.
"Anytime that we're not playing games, we'll treat the trip as a study abroad experience," said Tsipis, who made a similar voyage to England and Italy while an assistant at Notre Dame. "We want the players to visit as many places as possible. They're excited about using basketball as a vehicle for travel. Even if they go back later, it won't be with a group of people that they're so close to."
During their stay in London, the 31-person travel party will visit such notable sites as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. They will also witness the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, take a ride on the London Eye, and cruise the River Thames. The Colonials will play one exhibition game, and also give an instructional clinic.
After three days in London, the group will take the English Channel Tunnel to Paris. While in the City of Lights, George Washington will play two exhibition games in between visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. They will take another cruise, this time on the River Seine.
At the end of their Parisian stay, the Colonials will take the train to the Mediterranean coast and wind up in France's second-largest city, Marseilles. George Washington will play its final exhibition game in that city, and the trip will conclude with visits to the French Riviera towns of Nice and Monaco. The team will return home Aug. 23.
Tsipis said he hoped this adventure would bring the players closer as they prepare for the 2014-15 season. George Washington finished the 2013-14 season with a 23-11 record, which included an appearance in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. The Colonials beat East Carolina and Villanova before losing to South Florida during the third round.
"We'll look at a lot of different combinations during the games," said Tsipis, who has guided George Washington to a 37-27 record during his first two seasons. "It's an opportunity to set a tone for what will be the footprint of this year's team."