The best thing Alex Dayneka and Claire Walker of the Penn women’s soccer team did this summer was get away.
Walker stayed in Berlin from mid-May through most of July for a program pertaining to her urban studies major. Dayneka spent time at the University of Gaborone in Botswana, where she worked as an intern for Stepping Stones International, a development program for orphaned and vulnerable teenagers.
But spending time away from the Northern Hemisphere didn’t allow for a convenient workout regimen.
“It was winter where I was,” Dayneka said. “The sun came up a lot later and it set really early around 5 o’clock, so it was harder to work out.
“Actually I went on a safari once and so I was running in the Kalahari Desert. So you have to make it work but it was really cool to deal with it.”
However, with soccer being a global sport, it was easy for Walker and Dayneka to find ways onto the pitch.
“I corralled my fellow students to play soccer in a couple different parks and talked to German strangers to see if they would play with us,” Walker said.
Dayneka was able to incorporate sports into the Stepping Stones program.
“We’d have sports clinics a couple Saturdays when I was there,” she said. “We had a full week of sports culminating in an Olympics day. So I got a way to connect with the kids.”
But the greatest accomplishment that Walker and Dayneka achieved abroad may have been simply playing the sport they love.
“[The locals] were always shocked a girl was playing soccer,” Walker said. “Not too many girls play soccer over there.”
“People were really shocked that I played soccer,” Dayneka echoed. “The girls there thought it was weird. It was really cool for them to see that women can get involved in athletics.”
They both returned stateside on July 23 and had three weeks to readjust to soccer at home. Walker did not feel like she was 100 percent in game shape until the preseason. She benefited from playing pickup with her teammates upon her return. Dayneka felt the difference between continents instantly.
“I found it a little hard to adjust to the humidity because it was so dry over in Africa,” she said.
By the time the team gathered to begin the season in mid-August, though, Dayneka and Walker were up to game speed and a little wiser for the wear.
“I learned a lot about patience and seeing things from a different perspective,” Dayneka said.
“It’s about appreciating things and not always being so task-oriented, which I feel like we are here a lot of the time. And maybe just slow down and enjoy it.”