SPECIAL FEATURE (May 21, 2019) - Our Lady of the Lake University's (OLLU) Men's Basketball Head Coach Chris Dial recently returned from a trip to Europe whose purpose was to increase community-building and relationships between The Basketball Embassy (TBE) and OLLU.
Dial traveled to six different countries in an eight-day span. Dial said, "Four of those countries, I conducted business directly related to OLLU." Dial explained that the purposes of his trip, though, was to highlight the key components pertinent to telling the story of the trip in a way that is advantageous to this scholastic community, giving support to OLLU as an institution heavily engaged in community building and diplomacy.
Here's is an overview, in Dial's words.
Trip to Istanbul, Turkey
In Istanbul, I pulled together a few entities: Sporting Work, The Consulate's office in Istanbul, The Basketball Embassy (TBE) and OLLU. Sporting Work is an organization that operates out of a great facility on the southern portion of the European side of Istanbul. They have a beautiful hotel attached to an incredible sports complex/gym. They are the self-proclaimed home to basketball in Istanbul, and I am working with them by providing content, curriculum and programming in their facility. In doing so, I am trying to get them to see value in hosting events geared more around women/female youth participants and adaptive sports programs (wheelchair basketball, etc.). These ideas, in addition to my existing relationships with Dr. Turam, Ms. Wilcox and Consulate General (CG) Jennifer Davis, fueled the synergy in this meeting. FHI360 is the primary recipient of the largest Sports Diplomacy grant in the world as well as another one of the largest exchange programs in the world, Study of the US Institutes for Student Leaders (SUSI). Monika Wilcox is the primary author of both grants and is managing several million dollars in U.S. Department of State (DOS) money. In doing so, she has utilized the services of TBE for a couple of years now to help facilitate Sports Visitor Programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In meeting with the CG, Ms. Davis and her colleague, Keavy Nahan (Cultural Attaché – Istanbul), I was able to bring together a group that had the make-up and ability to put together some great opportunities for youth in that area. Wearing an OLLU shirt the entire day gave presence to this university's ability to serve as a host, a support structure and a provider of human capital where appropriate in the facilitation of such projects. The implications for OLLU are to potentially develop a relationship as a university with diplomatic offices like the consulate in Istanbul to eliminate barriers of entry to the American higher education system and show interest in and support of not only sports initiatives but educational and cultural projects as well. Unintended consequences would also include showing off our beautiful and diverse city to foreigners. Istanbul is one of the most diverse cities on the planet, and there are so many advantages for our university to have solid and steady contacts there. **Side note for this portion of the trip – The groups included could not believe that Ms. Jennifer Davis came to the facility and interacted with the participants, but this has been my experience in working with her. With the Embassy in Ankara somewhat limited and often not on the ground, Ms. Davis occupies one of the most significant seats we have in foreign diplomacy. For her to take the time was something special and to tweet at OLLU Saints Athletics was pretty cool, too.
Trip to Sofia, Bulgaria
In Sofia, Bulgaria Ms. Wilcox and I sat down with the Public Affairs Officer, Drake Weisert to discuss their small grants program through the U.s. Embassy in Sofia as well as potential submissions for big grant programs that could see basketball founded delegations of students and emerging leaders come to the U.S. for two weeks and work with our staff. In particular, I hope to utilize my new position with OLLU to help facilitate these engagements and show OLLU as a viable and long-term partner to the DOS and its corresponding programs. While in Sofia, I had a workout for potential student-athletes at CSKA Sofia Gymnasium. With the help of some local coaches, we assembled 20 college-ready young men, and I had an opportunity to observe their skillsets and then speak with them about the intricacies of the college admissions processes for a foreigner. It was a great opportunity to hand out some of our university materials that admissions provided me.
Trip to Skopje, Macedonia
In Skopje, Macedonia I met with two players and a club director, and we spoke about the possibility of setting up a working relationship that would create sort of a pipeline of potential players to OLLU. I also met with the technical director of the Macedonian National Basketball Federation as well as one of their premier youth coaches, Baze. We are hoping to reignite TBE's working relationship with this country as they have navigated some recent political changes. In doing so, I would like the entire country to see OLLU as a landing spot for their best and brightest young stars (all sports, all curriculums). These are realistic possibilities and ones that not too many universities are forward-thinking enough to see value in them. I am glad my university does, which made it easy to represent the Saints over there among old friends. If I can establish a sound model, it would be advantageous for all of our sports programs at OLLU to follow suit in their areas.
Trip to Pristina, Kosovo
In Pristina, a city I lived in for nearly two years, I had several engagements. Outside of coffee with the Cultural Affairs office at the U.S. Embassy, I sat with the founder of an international school and the best youth national team coach in the country. We had a workout similar to the one in Sofia, and I had players from seven cities around the country show up to show off their talent and ability. Materials were circulated, and we had a great discussion that took us well into the night about college in America and what benefits it would have for them. One of my former contacts, Zerina Shatri, is here playing for OLLU Women's Basketball Head Coach Christopher Minner as a result of relationships and engagements like this one. I look forward to more. This summer we will have a delegation of students and emerging leaders from Kosovo coming to OLLU's campus for TBE's international basketball camp and cultural exchange (Assembly 2019). DOS funding provided this opportunity, and there will be a follow-on portion of the program back in Kosovo in August. It is my plan and hope to utilize some of our academic faculty and staff to facilitate some on-campus programming while they are here. They will participate in the camp on and off all week, but will also be meeting with the San Antonio Spurs and faculty from Trinity University and the University of the Incarnate Word.
Trips to Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungry
I wrapped up with my tour with less than 12-hour stints in Vienna and Budapest looking at a player in each place as well as meeting with local basketball organizations in each location. In Budapest, I caught a networking event on the front end of an international conference full of IVLP (International Visitor Leadership Program), Fulbright and SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) alumni.