Elon Tennis Hawaii Global Experience DAY EIGHT

Aloha,

I'm writing this from the plane on the last leg of our journey. Today is the day we finally come back to campus and you may not believe me, but I missed Elon while we were away. Hawaii was paradise but home is where the heart is and my heart is still at Elon - no amount of amazing pineapple or macadamia nut shortbread cookies can change that.

Today is also my 22nd birthday and being able to celebrate it yesterday in Hawaii surrounded by all my teammates and closest friends is by far the best gift I received. My birthday was a gentle reminder of my upcoming graduation, so being in Hawaii for spring break eased the anxiety of knowing I'll be missing Elon even more very soon.

I realize I'm already getting sentimental of our unforgettable trip and of this school. I cant help it - this experience encapsulated everything I love about Elon: engaging academics, intense athletics, and a close community of people coming together.

It was topped off by a perfect last two days in Kailua-Kona on the big island. On Friday evening, we all went to eat at Foster's Kitchen, a trendy eatery with a breezy vibe complemented by the open view of the ocean and live music by a local musician.

After a rendition of Jack Johnson's "Better Together," she announced that it was my birthday and recruited the whole restaurant to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. Most people feel awkward in the birthday spotlight, but as I looked around the room at the group of thirty people who came on this trip, all I felt was loved.

Today we had the whole day to ourselves before heading out on our 5 o'clock flight. The hotel's breakfast buffet overlooking the Pacific brought us together before we all went to explore on our own. Although we had the day off from tennis, many of us went to hit together on the nearby courts for fun. Afterwards, some of the group went shopping while others went to the pool or the beach.

In one direction from the hotel, there was a local market that was filled with various souvenirs and gifts, many of which were handmade and traditional to Hawaii. In the other direction, there was a beautiful beach called "Magic Sands Park" - it had soft white sand that was a change from the rocky beaches typical of the big, volcanic island we were on.

Those of us that went shopping bought presents for our friends and family before stopping for the team's new favorite snack: Acai bowls. The other group that went to the beach had a once-in-a-lifetime experience swimming with sea turtles. You read that right - they swam in the crystal-clear pacific ocean with wild sea turtles on a beach called "Magic Sands." I'm still letting that sink in.

Once it was time to head back to the hotel, we finished the day with team photos to commemorate our trip. As we packed into the bus and said our final goodbyes to the island, everyone gathered around to share photos and videos of the past few days with each other. I thought about the different, sometimes surprising groups of people that grew closer on this trip. We were a tight-knit team already, but our vacation together helped us transcend certain boundaries that naturally form in a large circle of friends.

Over the course of our time in Hawaii, people would often call me the "mom" of the trip, seeing as I'm the only senior on the women's side of the team. As the "mom," it made me so happy to see many of my best friends bonding and setting the foundation for relationships that will last a lifetime. I know, I know - I'm getting sentimental again. But these relationships are what makes Elon great and unlike any other university. Hawaii was awesome on its own, but it just wouldn't be the same without the amazing people who came along.

As I close this blog series, I wanted to reiterate how grateful we were to go to Hawaii for our spring break trip. I know my words resonate throughout the entire team, so I would like to share them here:

Thank you to Elon University Athletics for encouraging global engagement for all sports teams. Thank you to Dave Blank, our Athletic Director, who ensured we'd have the best time possible. His wife and daughter, Leslie and Sami were an awesome addition to our trip. Thank you to Amanda Zamzes, from the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center, who brought nothing but positive energy to our activities and Amanda Dunens, our athletic trainer and resident doctor who handled our spontaneous travel-illnesses flawlessly.

Thank you to our tour guides, Brittney and Grace, for keeping such a large (and sometimes rowdy) group organized and happy. Thank you to our professor, MVP, who showed us a Hawaii that we wouldn't know otherwise and for letting us share in her passion for the culture.

Thank you to our coaches for the opportunity to play for an amazing school that offers these experiences to us. And lastly, thank you to my teammates for being such a great part of the trip and such a big part of my life here at Elon. These are the memories that will last a lifetime, but they wouldn't be so memorable without such a good group of people to make them with. And with that, I will finish by saying a hui hou and mahalo, Hawaii.

Natalia

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