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Cultural Transformation Nicki Bissey's career path takes an unexpected detour following a life-changing semester studying in Ecuador

WILDCAT SPOTLIGHT

By Colton Cecchini ‘22

Nicki Bissey realized she had a knack for competitive running at a young age.

“It’s more of a love-hate relationship with running,” Bissey says, adding, “but a good run can make a bad day into a good day.”

Now in her junior year at Linfield College, Bissey is competing as a member of the women’s cross country and track & field teams. She boasts a personal 5-kilometer record of 19 minutes and 9 seconds. Her fastest effort in the 1,500-meter run is 4 minutes and 53 seconds, a time which placed her seventh at last spring’s Northwest Conference Track and Field Championships.

“Nicki is such a crucial part of our team due to her upbeat personality,” says Linfield women’s cross country team captain Kelly Roth. “A run without Nicki coming along isn't nearly as fun.”

A glance at Bissey’s athletic record reveals she was absent from her sophomore cross country season. Instead, she was studying abroad in Ecuador, fulfilling a requirement for her Spanish minor and a lifelong desire.

“It was by far the best experience of my life,” says Bissey, reflecting back on her trip to the Southern Hemisphere. She recalls fondly the breathtaking sights of Machu Pichu and the warm, inviting Ecuadorian culture. But what most resonated with Bissey was her host family.

While living in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, Bissey stayed with a small family consisting of a mother, daughter and a dog. She was compelled to completely immerse herself in the Spanish language during her visit because no one in her host family spoke English.

Despite the language barrier, she thrived in her new setting.

“I became very close to my host mother. We even took dance lessons together and danced in the kitchen.” Together, they took countless trips throughout the region, which helped slowly develop a strong bond between them.

As her semester abroad drew to a close, Bissey found herself back in her hometown of San Rafael, California. That stretch of time, she says, was the hardest part of studying abroad.

“Coming back was very, very hard. It’s called reverse culture shock.”

After returning to the States, she entered a roughly one-month period of dejection. She says the lack of diversity, combined with the overall unfriendliness of her community, were among the biggest factors to affect her.

Though adjusting to different cultures can be difficult, Bissey offers some simple advice to those who are on the fence about traveling abroad: “Go. Just go, it’s so worth it.”

By the time her the semester abroad concluded, she was “highly proficient” in speaking Spanish. She also was able to re-establish her residency on Linfield’s McMinnville campus.

Since returning from her South American journey, Bissey has focused all her energy on her athletics and academics. “It was very hard to get back into it for track,” she says, “I definitely came back out of shape.”

She continues to train consistently and is striving to cut nearly 25 seconds off of her personal record in the 5k this cross country season.

Aside from competing in athletics, on campus, Bissey is an active member of the Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA) women’s fraternity. ZTA is where she made many of her closest campus friends during her time at Linfield. “I consider ZTA one of my families,” she says, “along with my roommates and teammates.”

“Nicki is that person who anyone can go to and instantly get along with,” Roth says. “She is good at making everyone comfortable in their own skin.”

The time Bissey spends outside of athletics is primarily devoted to studying. She is majoring in nursing and pursuing a Spanish minor. She credits her parents, Marci and Scott, for having had a profound impact on her chosen career path.

“My mom and my dad play a very big role in my life,” Bissey says. “They taught me everything I know.”

Her mother introduced her to Spanish early in her adolescence. Her father’s work as a physical therapist sparked her interest in nursing. Additionally, Bissey credits her grandmother, Gio Glasser, for being an inspiration and a pillar of strength in her life.

After completing the required credits, Bissey plans to migrate to Linfield’s School of Nursing in Portland. She intends to continue competing in running for Linfield while studying nursing full time.

In the distant future, Bissey hopes to return to Ecuador for a significantly longer stay while pursuing a nursing career. As for athletics, she hopes to one day become an accomplished marathon runner.

Credits:

Ryan Gardner, Kelly Bird, contributed photos from Nicki Bissey