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Louisville OL Pedro Sibiea takes study abroad trip to Panama

Louisville offensive guard Pedro Sibiea became the first football player to participate in the university's annual study abroad program to Panama. Courtesy of Pedro Sibiea

Pedro Sibiea has never been shy about traveling or meeting new people. Studying abroad in college always appealed to him, but with football consuming so much of his time, he never thought it possible.

Until he decided one day to ask.

Shortly before the bowl game, Sibiea met with his academic advisor and told her, "It would be nice if I studied abroad." She told him to start doing the research. He found a program in Panama for three weeks in May that fit his schedule and college requirements.

Sibiea filled out forms, and asked the football staff permission to go. When everything got approved, Sibiea was pumped. And that is how he became the first football player at Louisville to ever go on the study abroad program in Panama.

"It was always something I wanted to do," he said in a recent phone conversation. "I wanted to try new things and learn something new, and make the most of my opportunity."

Football was never really a topic during the three weeks he was away. Instead, Sibiea did his best to immerse himself in the culture without knowing much Spanish, taking classes on Panamanian culture and intercultural communication. In the communication class, the professor invited students from Louisville and Panama to take the course together.

Sibiea made friends right away, and enjoyed the various excursions they took to get a sense for the way people lived in Panama.

"Pedro and I talked about how maybe he could start a trend to get more athletes interested," said Al Futrell, chair of the Louisville department of communication and one of the leaders of the trip. "A lot of times maybe athletes are shy and afraid to do it, but Pedro had a good time. He got a great deal out of it. A trip like this opens their eyes to so many things. He was surprised by how much of an effect it had on him."

One excursion took them to the rain forest to visit the indigenous Embera tribe. During the trip, tribesmen showed the students how they lived off the land, pointing out various plants that gave them medicine and even their clothes.

Everything they wear is handmade, and the color comes from a different combination of a vegetation mix. They also had a chance to play with the children, one of the highlights for Sibiea.

"We used a lot of hand gestures, trying to make up a picture for them so they could see what I was talking about," Sibiea said. "Everything went smooth, though."

Another trip took them to a local orphanage, where each student was paired up with an orphan for a day.

"It was one of those bonding moments," Sibiea said. "I didn't speak the language, but they had a soccer ball and he knew what it was so OK, I knew we were about to play. That's how most of the day went."

Sibiea tried to stay on the strength and conditioning routine the Louisville staff provided him before he left, but there were not big enough weights for him to use in the hotel gym. He used the treadmill and walked just about everywhere to stay in shape. But Sibiea ended up losing 5 pounds anyway.

No matter. He made such a good transition from defensive line to offensive guard in the spring, he is set to earn a starting job for the season. The time away ended up helping Sibiea. Now he's eager for other athletes to join the study abroad club.

"Even my own teammates, I try to encourage them to do it," Sibiea said. "I feel like it's something that should be accessible and pushed more toward athletes. Most don't even make it out to their own city. To get out of the country, that's even bigger. I like that type of thing. I feel like if I was able to do it, more people should have opportunities to do it as well to take advantage of it."