The Class of 2015: Student athlete and international student Carol Kahoun balances class, sport, and service
She has spent the last four years more than 4,300 miles away from her family, but made a new family in Blacksburg – the Hokie Nation.
“School spirit doesn’t exist in Europe, to have such a strong affiliation and love for a school,” said Carol Kahoun, from Visp, Switzerland, a senior double majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and psychology in the College of Science. “It’s hard to explain it to my friends and family back home. It’s amazing that so many people know what Virginia Tech is.”
In high school, Kahoun did an exchange for a year in Alaska to learn English. While there, she went to the University of Alaska to watch a college game. “I didn’t know there was the combination of playing sports while earning a degree. It became of dream of mine,” Kahoun said. “Being able to play sports and be a student is something that Europe can not offer.”
Kahoun played tennis her entire life, even attending a sports-specific high school in Switzerland. The summer before her senior year of high school, she came to a tennis camp in Roanoke, Virginia. She told a coach there, world-renown tennis player Brenda Schultz, about her interest in becoming a student athlete.
“I mentioned the dream of combining sports and a degree, and getting a scholarship to come to the states. She called a couple of coaches and the Virginia Tech coach came and recruited me,” Kahoun said. “I didn’t have to ponder it long before I made the decision to come.”
Kahoun played for three years on Virginia Tech’s tennis team, serving the last year as a volunteer coach. She learned quickly that balancing class and sport can be difficult. “When I came in freshman year, the seniors would tell us not to worry. It seems impossible – why did I sign up for this?” Kahoun said. “But you learn to manage it and set priorities. It’s busy, but it’s really fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”
With the demands on student athletes, it can be hard to study abroad. A few years ago, the Department of Athletics began a education abroad opportunity tailored to athletes and their schedules. Kahoun went on the first trip to the Dominican Republic. They worked with children, emphasizing healthy practices.
“We had a bit of a language barrier, but it was still amazing to see the impact we had on them, but even more so, the impact they had on us,” Kahoun said.
Beyond sport and class, Kahoun found ways to give back to the university and surrounding community through service. Her sophomore year, she became a representative of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which serves as a bridge between student-athletes and the university. The last two years, she served as the committee president.
The committee also coordinates professional development and outreach events. “It’s inspiring to me – people who already have restricted time are wanting to spend more time helping out in the community doing outreach events,” Kahoun said. “My main motivation has been the good people around me, always pushing each other, always finding better ways to evolve as a person.”
"After her first year on the team, Carol's attitude and work ethic were evident. She was already one of the leaders on the team," said Mike Swanhart, academic counselor with Student Athlete Academic Support Services. "She is an outstanding student and an even better person. She is a great representative of Virginia Tech and what it means to be a Hokie."
The commitment to service, both within athletics and the university as a whole, is something that sets Virginia Tech apart from other universities, Kahoun said. “Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is actually a reality here, not just something we put on paper or on a banner. Virginia Tech is very special in that sense and providing opportunities to follow that motto.”
"Ut Prosim is not just a motto, it's a lifestyle and she's a great example every day," Swanhart said.
After commencement, Kahoun will travel home to work at a hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland. It will be a temporary break from school before she plans to get a master’s degree, likely in sports administration with an international development focus.
“I think it’s amazing how big of an impact sports can have, especially with young people. Sport connects people, who then become your family. It allows one to grow and continuously aspire for more,” Kahoun said. “A career to make the holistic experience of an athlete accessible to all will be challenging, but I'm looking forward to new challenges.”
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.