Senior Wes Dolen is a safety for the Albion ColIege football team. Before most plays on defense, he drops into the backfield, scans his surroundings and the play the opponent is about to run.
Before this season, Dolen was a running back for the Britons, charging ahead with the ball on offense.
Interesting, then, how his experience in India this past summer seemed to resemble, in a small way, those perspectives on the gridiron.
"I took off—just tried to see as much of India as possible," said Dolen about his summer, which began after completing a study-abroad spring semester at the University of Hyderabad. "After our exams finished in late April, it was just me and my backpack for a while. I learned more outside of the classroom than anything. I learned a lot about the people and the culture just by interacting. The [Indian] people are generally kind, hospitable, and very welcoming, and it wasn't hard to fit in.
"I think the most enjoyable part of the experience was going to the [Himalayan] mountains," he added. "I went there for a two-week trek as part of a youth group, and I made friends that I'll stay in contact with for the rest of my life. It was the most serene and tranquil place I've ever been – and probably ever will be – in my life. The trek is called Saurkundi Pass and once you get to the actual pass the 360-degree view around you are white-capped mountain peaks."
Dolen saved money on lodging by making overnight journeys on buses and trains. It was living by simple means that he learned to differentiate between wants and needs.
"It was challenging [to live out of a backpack], but a lot of fun," he said. "We have this idea [in America] of what we need every day, and I think it really showed me how little I needed to get by.
"It's very liberating, too, just walking around with all of your belongings on your back," he added. "That's all you have to worry about – keeping [the backpack] close to you. You keep your passport, some clothes, some soap, maybe a toothbrush, maybe some music to listen to; that's about it."
A double major in philosophy and international studies, Dolen studied through the Council on International Education Exchange's Study in India Program (SIP). The East Lansing native took classes in basic Hindi and nongovernmental organizations' role in development through SIP and Indian philosophy and theories in international relations through the university.
Dolen, who chose to study abroad in India because of a longtime interest in Eastern thought, says the experience is steering him toward a career that will allow for public service. Starting a career as a Foreign Service officer or in the Teach for America program are among the leading candidates, but the job search is currently on hold while Dolen juggles his fall semester courses and playing football.
"I haven't decided exactly what I want to do, but it is definitely along the line of social work and giving something back, of really doing something hands-on," Dolen said.
"Generally, after coming back from India, I have a sense things will work out the way they should," he added. "I think I was easygoing before I went. Just seeing the type of things people deal with on a daily basis puts it in perspective. My problems are not that large and as long as I take care of what I have to, everything will work out all right."
It's that sense of calm that makes one wonder if Dolen is better equipped to perform on the football field when the difference between winning and losing hangs in the balance.
Albion was trailing Wheaton late in the fourth quarter when Dolen made an interception that led to the game-winning touchdown, and he picked off two Central passes in the fourth quarter.
"I'm no hero," Dolen said. "I'm trying to play the game and have fun with it, whether it's the first quarter or the fourth quarter. This season I really want to have fun because it is my last season ever as a football player."
While he admits studying in India is not the thing a typical football player would do, Dolen leans back on his academic major to lament about society's generalization of his fellow athletes.
"Football is a wonderful sport, and it has taught me a whole lot throughout my life," Dolen said. "I don't think there is a typical football player. I think football players can come from a wide array of backgrounds and can even drop everything and go to India.
"I'm just happy to have been able to attend a school, play a sport, and have such an opportunity," he said. "I don't think there are a lot of other places I would have been allowed that."