5 Things I’ve Learned While Playing Abroad


5 Things I’ve Learned While Playing Abroad

Reflections from a soccer player in Ireland

Malinda Allen

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I finished my college soccer career this past May and after graduating I moved to Dublin to play for Shelbourne Ladies FC. This would immediately be amazing, exhilarating, and a “cloud nine” experience (as expected) while also some of the most difficult months (not expected) of my life. You don’t know what a situation will be like — even a great one — until you are deep into it.

God has given me the chance to live out a childhood dream. On the most difficult days though, mixed in with the emotions of thrill, joy, amazement and adventure — I have also wished that I never had those dreams!

I hesitate to say that, but I think most people understand that sentiment at different points in our lives. Why? Because sometimes when you wish for something you don’t know how challenging it will turn out to be. When you wish for something, it’s easy to imagine the fairytale side of it and not consider the challenges that will come with it. Fortunately, situations like these grow us and make us more like Christ because they push us to our limits and make us rely on God and not ourselves.

Most days I have to pinch myself to believe that I am where I am. It’s a dream come true. I am thrilled I have this chance and this is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life because I am growing every day and I know God has me where He wants me. That’s the best place to be, no matter the circumstances, good or bad.

My teammates and I are competing for a spot in Champions League, all while learning the game from a different culture and immersing myself in a new way of life. I am making friends across the globe and so many other cool things. Here are five things that I have learned since moving and playing abroad:


This might sound intuitive. I am going to play soccer and compete for a spot on the team and help my team win. While this is correct, it isn’t enough. If you have played a sport at any level you know that the season and your performance can go up and down. This whole experience abroad cannot be solely based on my performance. I was encouraged to write out goals before I arrived in Dublin and think through why I was really going.

I split my goals it into three different areas:

  • Why am I playing?
  • Goals for playing
  • Other Goals

Writing this down has helped me in two ways. It gives me something to come back to when life feels uncertain. For example, the visa process created quite the amount of stress; I needed to find another job which brought a whole host of other pressures; and finding my way in a foreign country not knowing anyone before I got here.

But, in the midst of the fear I refocused and reminded myself why I am here. I need the reminder daily. It allows me think about my life as being about something bigger than just soccer and my circumstances — because it always is. I am not defined by my sport or my salary — although it is easy to believe that it is my identity especially when I moved myself to another country to play it.

It is important to remember that we are more than our sport so it doesn’t consume us. It can easily happen if we let it.


Just as moving to any new city brings challenges, when you move abroad it can feel isolating. Your friends are no longer a car ride away or even a few states away. It’s not easy to call them because of the time change. They are a plane ride, thousands of miles, and multiple time zones away.

How can you prepare for this a little more? See if you can have someone disciple you. I have been discipled by the same person for about a year now and thankfully she was willing to continue this while I am abroad.

This keeps regularity in my schedule and a built in time to talk with someone who can encourage me in my faith and life.

It is important to remember that we are more than our sport so it doesn’t consume us


Being a part of a church creates community and pushes us in our faith. I made it a priority to find a church when I got to Dublin. It wasn’t easy and it is tiring after a while to continually be the new person, but that feeling is a necessary part of the process.

I almost didn’t go the Sunday that I found my new church. I had to convince myself to get out of bed and go. I had friends from home encouraging me to keep trying to find community. Tim Keller has a ministry called City to City. It’s a website that offers church suggestions in cities across the world. I used this to find my church.

I did have the convenience of going to an English speaking country, so it has made finding Christians a little bit easier. It is a cool experience to join a church in another country. We have people of all different nationalities, 1st languages and experiences, yet we worship the same God.


Being a college athlete can feel extremely productive. You balance tests, class, homework, a social life and oh yeah — all of the hours of training and recovery for your sport. Playing abroad creates a lot more time in the day because I no longer have school, but this comes with an extra degree of discipline. There is really no good excuse for not eating right, getting in extra training and prioritizing my sleep.

But I need to find a passion outside of my sport.

I am still trying to find the right hobby. I like to cook and find coffee shops, but I am still looking for something else. Finding a hobby can help with the loneliness you can feel in the time that it takes to create friendships in a new country and it can be a healthy escape from the expectations of your sport.


My last piece of advice is to embrace the story God is creating. This is much easier said than done. There have been moments of pure joy and excitement and other moments of discouragement and fear.

I have often written in my journal “Why God?” or “Do you care about me?” or “What are you doing?” If we’re honest with ourselves, we all ask this in many seasons of our lives. This isn’t the first time I’ve asked these questions and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The first two months were extremely difficult. Most of the days, I was angry with God, confused and anxious. But at the same time God was fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to play soccer after college and the soccer on the field was going very well. In the highs and in the lows try to keep people close to you who can comfort you when you need it. Also have them there to celebrate the successes no matter how big or how small.

In the moment it can be difficult to embrace everything in our lives, but creating a posture of gratitude can change the way you view the world. You can step off the rollercoaster of emotions and stand firm in the story God is writing. It is by no means easy. It is a battle. But nothing amazing in life using comes easily. It takes something we call faith. We need to remind each other of this because we can’t do it on our own. I can’t believe that I am where I am today and I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to see what will come in the next few months.



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