As a sports-mad kid, going on an international tour with your team is something you dream about. But it rarely becomes a reality. Thanks to Student Horizons, I was fortunate enough to live that dream. In 2015, I went on a USA Rugby Tour with our New Plymouth Boys’ High School rugby team. It was an experience I will never forget.
Travelling together on tour was an indescribable experience for our team. It allowed us to build an incredible team culture of commitment, resilience, community, and most importantly: ENJOYMENT! Sport should be all about enjoying yourself, but this can quickly be forgotten in the midst of a tough season.
This is a short reflection on how rewarding and memorable this unique experience was for everyone who was involved.
I didn’t attend a wealthy private school. And travelling isn’t cheap. The vast majority of the boys in our team had to fundraise extensively in order to go on the tour. We did everything, from cooking countless sausages, to demolishing old school buildings. Even donning tuxedos to run casino nights wasn’t off the table! We really stretched our time and skills far and wide to make it all happen.
I specifically remember a long, strenuous weekend that we spent picking kumara (sweet potatoes). Hunched over on all fours. Riffling through the dirt. For hours and hours on end. Perhaps not something I would sign up for again anytime soon. And it certainly had an impact on our hamstrings when we had to play the next day!
But I look back on these challenges fondly. All our hard work and commitment made finally boarding that plane together all the more rewarding. And it certainly helped to establish a stronger team bond, which helped us during challenging patches of the season.
Our tour’s focus was developing our rugby skills, individually and as a team. We had six games scheduled, along with a few training sessions to iron things out. Our game improved significantly throughout our time in California. The highlights of the fixtures were the challenging games against Jesuit High (Sacramento) and Xavier High (New York). These were two of the top four ranked schools in the country. It was an exciting prospect to see how we matched up against the best in the US.
This extended time playing games against unfamiliar teams allowed for huge improvements in our playing style and structure. Ultimately, it was a huge success. Our final fixture even culminated in one of the most impressive displays of running rugby I have ever been involved in!
Of course, the tour was so much more than just playing rugby. From adrenaline filled days at US theme parks, to tours of Alcatraz prison, we did a bit of everything. Our USA Rugby Tour was jam packed with exciting and unique opportunities.
We were even lucky enough to branch out from rugby and enjoy several other professional sports games. Our group attended an NBA Basketball game, an NHL Ice Hockey game, and a Major League Baseball game. The atmosphere at each game was superb – energetic and exciting. Seeing these world-class teams play was a dream come true for many of us young Kiwi boys.
For me, by far the most memorable aspect of the trip was the friendships we formed. Spending a couple of weeks away together is an intensive experience, but it really brought us all closer. It was also great to room with different people to get to know everyone better off the rugby field. More than regular practises or games, this was a bonding experience that made us a much better team.
Our poor coach driver probably hated us for our terrible karaoke singing over the microphone, but for us it was another unique moment of connection. As it turned out, the most outstanding and expressive players on the field were the ones who needed the most encouragement to stand up and sing in front of their mates. It was little experiences like this that really bred the community feel in the squad.
On top of this, the kindness shown from the host families who billeted us was incredible. Four years on, I am still in regular contact with my billet families. They have always kept their doors open for me to come back to visit. It was great to be able to return the favour when one of the schools toured New Zealand the following year.
Everything we gained from our USA rugby tour was undoubtedly reflected in our season. Building strong off-field relationships with our teammates and extended periods of training and gameplay had a huge impact. This was reflected in an outstanding season back in New Zealand.
I believe this opportunity was particularly rewarding for those of us who won’t go on to play high level sport. On a personal level, this experience broadened my view of what was out there. It encouraged me to travel and pursue knowledge the world over.
I have maintained friendships with my billets and other opposition players who are now good friends and contacts on the other side of the world. I definitely caught the travel bug, and I have gone on to explore South America and Europe since then. This is something I am excited to continue to do. I know that many of the other boys in the team feel the same.
I would like to thank the team at Student Horizons, as well as the school staff who were involved. Their tireless efforts made our tour the roaring success that it was. For the lessons we learnt and opportunities we were provided, I couldn’t recommend touring enough.
Born and raised in New Plymouth, New Zealand, Theo grew up playing any sport he could get involved with – whether on a team or in the backyard with his brothers. Rugby, cricket and darts remain his biggest passions.
Theo attended New Plymouth Boys’ High School, where he was fortunate enough to complete a Student Horizons rugby tour to California. This opportunity sparked his love for travel and remains one of his fondest memories. He is excited to provide the same experience for other young people.
Theo studied towards a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Public Policy at Victoria University of Wellington. During this time, he spent a year on exchange in Medellín, Colombia. He travelled extensively in Colombia, through Peru, Brazil and Central America. He developed a great love for this area of the world and he values pushing boundaries and experiencing the different cultures and people around the world.
After completing his degree, Theo left windy Wellington to join the Student Horizons team in Brisbane.