Reframe Podcast: Episode 29

Studying Abroad in New Zealand Shows the Social, Cultural, and Political Sides of Sport

milford sound in New Zealand

In this episode, we travel to New Zealand, where one study abroad program looks at a particular industry from a completely different perspective.
Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami university in Oxford, Ohio.

The differences that separate many countries and cultures can also be viewed as a way better understand and connect with each other. And this is the goal behind many study abroad programs, which offer these kinds of diverse global learning experiences. So in this episode, we travel to New Zealand, where one program looks at a particular industry from a completely different perspective.

(Music Fade) 

Until recently, the furthest Allie Rock had ever been from home was after she moved away to attend Miami University. But this was far different than a road trip from Washington D.C. to Oxford, OH.

Allie Rock:

I mean, even being at Miami was a big step for me. So going to New Zealand really put me out of my comfort zone. Going there really scared me. But now that I’ve had that experience in a different culture, in a different place, it’s opened me up to so many things.

James Loy:

Allie Rock is now a senior majoring in sport leadership and management. And now that she’s returned from her first study abroad, she’s joined a long Miami tradition that combines rigorous academics with rich intercultural experiences.

Every year, nearly 2,000 students from across the whole university participate in hundreds of similar global opportunities that inspire the kind of cultural illumination that can only occur after being immersed in a foreign locale. And the New Zealand program, which specializes in the management, culture, and global enterprise of sport, is no exception.

Because sport management is often viewed very differently in other parts of the world, seeing it abroad can be an eye-opening experience, especially for those who have only considered the industry from an Americanized perspective. 

Here’s Adam Beissel, a Miami University assistant professor of sport leadership and management.

Adam Beissel:

Sport management means something different in NZ than it does here. In fact, the US is probably the most distinct country in the world in that sport management is generally viewed as a career to teach students how to generate money or enhance revenue from a professional sport organization. Sport management elsewhere in the world -- in Australia and NZ, the UK, Europe more broadly – it’s more about how can sport be managed and delivered for a variety of objectives. Not solely for the accumulation of profit.   

James Loy:

This difference is really important. And it’s perhaps most apparent through the way in which the government is heavily involved in the industry.

Alongside the professional private sector and various of non-profit organizations, a municipal government-based branch called Sport New Zealand is also responsible for overseeing everything from youth participation in sport to elite Olympic level athletes, and many things in between. Here, Sport New Zealand is prime example of how a social investment in a grassroots sport-based infrastructure is viewed as vital pubic service to local communities.

Adam Beissel:

The state or the government has a really important role in facilitating sport and physical activity for the population of New Zealand. And they do it primarily through two ways. One is through emphasizing elite high performance sport. Those are the Olympians. And the other would be a public investment in infrastructure and coaching and just the general management of grassroots sport. And that sort of three sectors approach is what’s really unique about New Zealand and offers out students a comparison point for studying the delivery and benefits of sport to society.

James Loy:

Another stark contrast is how sport is deeply woven and channeled throughout a larger collective national identity. Unlike in America, where personal interests commonly divide fans, New Zealand tends to unify itself.

Allie Rock:

So it is interesting because New Zealand defines themselves, or New Zealanders-landers define their sporting identity based on how their national teams do. Whereas American’s define their sporting identity as to how their personal professional teams do. So I am obviously a USA fan when the Olympics come on. But I would define myself as more of a D.C. sports fan because I am from Washington DC. Whereas New Zealanders get behind their All Blacks rugby team. Everyone gets behind it.

James Loy:

It’s an example of how New Zealanders look at sport completely differently and it’s largely because of the size of their small country, which the students also travel across through whirlwind tour that spans Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, and Queenstown.

Each distinct location serves as a focal point for additional learning opportunities that cover a variety of academic lectures as well as meetings with sport managers and executives, media corporations, marketing agencies, and site visits to several stadiums and facilities. 

Students also complete a separate experiential component by seeing a few professional teams in action and by actually playing sport themselves including several local favorites like rugby, cricket, and netball.

In all, it’s a lot to pack into three weeks. But the students somehow manage to absorb it all. And much more. On the weekends they had free time to explore, and engage in a lot of fun activities like surfing, hike, and bungee jumping.  

These experiences help students expand their understating of the world and their relationship with it. But through this lens of comparison, they also illustrate what else is possible.

Because many students who initially pursue a SLAM degree often dream of becoming general managers or an otherwise important part of a high profile professional team. But there are so many more opportunities and ways to connect with people and communities through sport, careers that may not be exclusive to the commercial or private sector alone.

Adam Beissel:

The reality is a lot of them are going to work in perhaps sport, but in other areas. So nonprofit areas or facility management that might not be for a specific professional sport team. So it offers our students insight into the real careers that are offered in sport. Some of them will do nonprofit or sport for development work and try and help the inner city kids improve their academic standing by playing basketball or joining rec clubs and there is really strong sense of that in New Zealand and so they can borrow those philosophies and also the kind of practical management and apply it to their careers.

James Loy:

For Allie Rock, the experience was everything she thought studying abroad could and should be. It was enlightening and rewarding, thought provoking and exhilarating, and it was an inspiring way to become a more engage global citizen.

Allie Rock:

I love learning and I always wanted to learn about a different sport system and I never really . . .  it opened my eyes to so many things that the US does or doesn’t do, in terms of their sporting systems. So I knew that going to see another country’s would give me a new perspective on how I viewed the world. I mean, it was unreal. I cannot recommend it enough. And before, I was so scared to leave the country. But now -- after seeing that -- where else in the world can I go? The world is so different. I want to see it for myself.