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Serving Inspiration Through Athletics

January 12, 2017


Kate Griffith

For more than a decade Jodie Zhou spent most of her waking hours on tennis courts practicing serves and returns and reveling in the world of professional tennis. She joined the Chinese national team in 2005 when she was around 14 years old. The opportunity took her from her family home in Wuhan, China, to places across the world and sparked an early interest in international relations.

The chance to join a national team so young would be, to many others, a dream come true. But Jodie’s typical description of her experience is a bit different. “I hated it,” she says.

While Jodie enjoys tennis for the sport itself, she says she disliked the competitive job it quickly became. The silver lining: Spending so much time on a traveling team helped her to found friendships with athletes from all over the world. Jodie is now hopeful she can use her experience crossing cultural barriers using the universal language of sports as a stepping stone to a new calling — helping children find their own paths and passions through an international sports nonprofit.

“I want to do something that helps kids connect with sports, to connect with other people through sports, or connect with the world through sports,” she says. “I had so many advantages because of sports: education, travel, friendships. I don’t want to teach kids to be professional athletes, I want them to know what is available to them through sports.”

It’s an aspiration that, in part, led Jodie to the University of Washington Master of Arts in Applied International Studies (MAAIS) program, where she says her path is only becoming clearer.

“Now I know the steps I should take first,” she says, adding that the open MAAIS curriculum is allowing her to tailor her education based on those steps. During the winter quarter, for example, she’s taking several nonprofit management classes in addition to an international development class and others.

Each of her classes, she says, has offered new perspectives that are helping to inform her goals in ways she never would have considered. “I’ve learned so much, not just from my professors but from my classmates,” she says. “The feedback I get from my classmates is so diverse and helps me shape my thoughts.”

This is the first post in a series profiling members of the 2016–17 MAAIS cohort. For more information about the MAAIS program, its curriculum, and its students, visit the MAAIS website.