Drake Football gains global view,

sharpens X’s and O’s with historic study-abroad trip to China

One of the first educational lessons Drake University football players Nathan Clayberg and Kieran Severa learned on campus was how to balance strong classroom performance with rigorous execution of the Bulldog playbook. But the Division I student-athletes’ schedules made their hopes of enrolling in a study-abroad semester seem as distant as far off lands. That changed dramatically last summer.

As their final season kicks off, these seniors and their teammates are bringing a new sense of camaraderie and global engagement to the line of scrimmage after the football program’s historic visit to China May 22­–June 4. The memorable trip provided the team with the best of all worlds: an integrated academic, athletic and cultural experience.

The entourage of players, coaches, faculty, and administrators leveraged longstanding University partnerships. The agenda included international business classes on globalization, volunteer service work, and a visit to the U.S. Embassy to meet U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor and a Drake University Law School alumnus. Other highlights were excursions to the Forbidden City, Des Moines’ Sister City of Shijiazhuang, and a challenging hike along the Great Wall of China.

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Sept. 1 – William Jewell

Sept. 8at Montana
Sept. 15 – Missouri S&T
Sept. 29 – at Jacksonville
Oct. 6 – Butler
Oct. 13 – Stetson
Oct. 20 – at Dayton
Oct. 27 – at Valparaiso
Nov. 3 – San Diego
Nov. 10 – Marist
Nov. 17 – at Morehead State

The trip culminated with a public celebration of American football featuring youth football clinics and the Drake-China Ambassadors Bowl game in Beijing, sponsored by Global Football. The alliance between Drake and Global Football started in 2011 when the Bulldogs squared off with Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education during the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl in the first game of college American football to ever be played in Africa.

Guided by Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy Matthew Mitchell and Associate Professor of International Business Jeffrey Kappen, key learning outcomes were intentional—graded coursework and unique research opportunities—yet also aligned with the business school’s mission to develop the whole person.

“We recognize that 21st century education requires experiential opportunities and putting classroom experiences into action,” Mitchell said. “We designed the experience to instill a lifelong desire for learning about this culture and other cultures. We wanted to maximize our opportunity there, but also instill a curiosity that extends beyond their grade, beyond graduation, and hopefully transforms lives toward the idea of a global mindset.”

Clayberg, an accounting and finance major, said a key benefit of the trip was personal growth. “As we experienced a new culture, learned a history different from our own, and met people with totally different backgrounds than us, I think many guys felt like their curiosity was piqued in a way that it hadn’t before. It made many of us realize how much there is to learn about this world, and how exciting that learning can be.”

With the assistance of Mitchell, Clayberg also undertook an independent study course during the trip. “This opened up additional doors for me to talk to our Chinese professors and other college students in more of a research context,” said Clayberg. “Ultimately, I decided to center my research around the topic of individual liberty and how its perception differs between China and the United States.” Mitchell and Clayberg will be presenting the work to a research colloquium in September and hope to have it published in the Drake Management Review, an academic journal published by Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration.

Drake Head Football Coach Rick Fox pointed out that cross-cultural trips have significant impact, but this trip was unique for several reasons. “It was a trip that further connected two of the great superpowers in the world at a time of increasing tension, and it involved American football which is growing rapidly in China at the youth levels,” he said.

He took satisfaction in seeing his team’s experience enriched with visits to many significant cultural sites in Beijing. “In addition, our hotel was located in a typical Beijing neighborhood, not a tourist area, so our team was engaged in the Chinese society and the common everyday life of a resident.”

Severa, a health studies major, attempted to learn the Chinese language and sought Beijing ping pong opponents in his quest to understand cultural differences and commonalities. “In America, when we describe ourselves, we think of what makes us different and unique. In China, they will describe themselves by the school they attend or where they work. They see themselves as part of a bigger picture, which is a very different view,” he said.

Severa hopes a more global perspective and increased team unity will transfer over to the gridiron this fall. “I got to know some of our sophomores and juniors on a more personal level. Whenever we can strengthen those personal bonds, it’s always a huge benefit to the team and our overall play in general.”