Pufferfish, pasta making, and painting: International trips bring Brown student-athletes abroad

From Italy to the Dominican Republic to Australia, several Brown varsity teams traveled abroad this past year, competing against international talent and providing student-athletes with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Claire Poissonnier ’25 has been playing water polo since she was seven years old. Now a forward on the Brown women’s team, she’s competed in a variety of situations and against both collegiate and professional teams. But, she’d never played water polo beside a pufferfish.

Poissonnier and her Brown water polo teammates encountered their pufferfish companion on their January 2023 trip to Australia during a training session in the Gunnamatta Bay Baths.

“It was our first swim, but it set the tone for the rest of the trip and made us realize that we were about to experience some of the most unique water polo we’ve ever played,” says Poissonnier. “It was amazing.” 

But the water polo team wasn’t the only Brown athletics team to take advantage of the NCAA rule that allows teams to travel abroad once every four years. In December 2022, the men’s baseball team traveled to the Dominican Republic. In April, men’s soccer went to England. In June, women’s soccer visited Italy. Then, men’s basketball traveled to France in August. 

“These international trips are a life-changing experience that we get to share with our teams,” says Kia McNeill, head coach of the Brown women’s soccer team. “For several student-athletes, it might be their first time out of the country, going to a professional game, or learning a new language. Having those ‘firsts’ together is invaluable. These are memories that are going to last forever, and it’s incredible that Brown student-athletes get to partake in an experience like this as a team.”

“ No matter where we go, as a Brown Bear, we respect our opponents and play like it’s our last game ever because nothing after that is promised. It was clear that the teams we played had the same mindset. There’s a Bruno mindset in all of us. ”

Aaron Cooley ’25 Men's basketball

Bringing the Bruno mindset

These trips were more than just swimming with pufferfish and sightseeing. They were opportunities to engage in international competition with Premier League clubs, semi-professional and professional squads, and even some former Olympians.

“With all of the teams we played, you could tell that there was a serious respect and love for the game,” says Aaron Cooley ’25, who traveled to France as part of the men’s basketball team. “No matter where we go, as a Brown Bear, we respect our opponents and play like it’s our last game ever because nothing after that is promised. It was clear that the teams we played had the same mindset. There’s a Bruno mindset in all of us.”

Basketball in France


How Aaron Cooley ’25 and his teammates prepared for their game abroad.

Globetrotting and giving back

During their trips, there was also a bevy of enriching activities to engage in away from the field, court, and pool. Teams took in the sights on boat tours, rode bikes along the French Riviera, visited ancient Roman ruins, learned how to make fresh pasta, and got one-on-one time with some wallabies.

Several teams engaged with the local community in a deeper way through volunteer work. Both the men’s and women’s water polo teams helped to restore the natural environment at Berry Island Reserve while learning about its cultural significance as a gathering place for the Aboriginal people.

During their trip to the Dominican Republic, the men’s baseball team also gave back to their host country. The team visited an orphanage, painted houses, and held a youth baseball clinic.

“It was an incredibly rewarding experience to work with local children, playing a game that I grew up loving,” says men’s baseball player Gunner Boree ’25. “It was a breath of fresh air and a reminder of how much joy baseball can bring.”

Traveling (and bonding) as a team

Though Brown athletics teams spend a lot of quality time together, from training to travel to games, these trips allowed team chemistry to flourish.

“I got to know my teammates outside of the court, outside of the classroom, outside of the dining hall. I got to see what they’re about and what brings them joy outside of basketball,” says Cooley.

That connection has translated to success on the field for the women’s soccer team, and McNeil believes that these travel experiences contributed to the team’s Ivy League championship wins in 2019 and 2023. Both championships were preceded by a team trip abroad.

“You get to know each other on a deeper level, and share once-in-a-lifetime experiences that create a bond that is unbreakable,” says McNeill. “When we got home to Logan Airport and everyone was going their separate ways to fly home, my team was crying as they said their goodbyes to each other. That just shows how special the culture, camaraderie, and the holistic experience of the trip was for each player. These are going to be lifelong memories that will be unforgettable, forever.”

A gift to student-athletes

Players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have seen the value of these trips. Alumni, parents, families, and friends of Brown have as well. Some hosted dinners for teams while abroad, while others joined athletes and families for activities like boat tours. 

Each trip this year was supported by BrownTogether campaign donors who made gifts of all sizes, from small donations to endowed funds. Thanks to their generosity, these student-athletes were able to partake in these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

“As student-athletes, we are so often either in the classroom or in practice that we don’t get the chance to be as actively involved in the community or charity work as we sometimes want to be, or to simply relax and just be a college student. This trip was so enriching that we got to do all of that in one week: give back to a community, explore a new city, watch a sunrise at the beach with friends, and more,” says Poisonnier.