July 19, 2012
MADISON, Wis. - Former volleyball Badger Marian Weidner has become a true world traveler. The former outside hitter (2001-05) worked in San Francisco after graduation before spending two years in Morocco as part of the Peace Corps.
A native of Warrenville, Ill., Weidner graduated from Wisconsin in 2006 with a degree in rural sociology. Even in college she traveled, going to China and also competing internationally in the Czech Republic.
Weidner has returned Madison to earn her master's degree in environment and resources. She sent her update from Chengdu, China, where she is doing fieldwork for her master's thesis.
Where are you living and going to school now?
I am currently working toward a Master of Science degree in environment and resources at the University of Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
You spent two years in the Peace Corps in Morocco. What were some of the highlights of your time there? Was there a language barrier?
I lived in an isolated mountain village and was the only American there. Every day I experienced something beautiful, interesting or strange. My village was various shades of brown for most of the year and the women there wore the brightest colors – pink, purple, orange, red, green and lots of sparkles. It was an incredible sight to see their vibrant colors when they were out in the fields harvesting wheat or planting crops. When I first went to my village, I was scared because it was so remote and thought that if anything happened to me no one would ever find out! The greatest highlight was making friends with people I initially thought I didn’t have much in common with. I felt taken care of – people were always inviting me over and would help me with anything I needed.
Another highlight was training for the Marrakech Marathon. It was really hard because I lived at 7,500 feet and the only place to run was uphill! At first people thought it was a little weird that I would just go outside and run. After a couple months, my friends would wave to me when they saw me running up the road and I started an informal running club with some of the little kids.
As for language, I spent two months living with a family in a training site learning Tamazight (pronounced Tamazeert) with a Peace Corps language teacher. After two months, I went to my permanent site and spent another two months with another family before moving into my own place. Living in an immersion situation really forced me to master the language. No one in my village spoke English, so it was swim or sink!
What else have you been doing since graduating?
Right now I’m in Chengdu, China, finishing up fieldwork for my master’s thesis. I just spent a month in southern Sichuan talking to subsistence farmers about their experiences with some of China’s environmental policies. I ran the Madison Half-Marathon in May and I’ll be biking from Berkeley, Calif., to Portland, Ore., with my boyfriend this August.
How did your academic experience and/or your degree from UW assist you in your chosen career?
I got my bachelor’s degree in rural sociology and a minor in environmental studies. My major exposed me to the complexity and challenges of conserving the environment while preserving the livelihood traditions of local people. I’m really interested in how conservation programs do or don’t address rural poverty. It was through my undergraduate major that I discovered academic avenues for addressing social justice issues.
Did your experience in athletics influence you in your current vocation? If so, how?
Yes, my first travel experiences to the Dominican Republic, China, and the Czech Republic were for volleyball competitions. It got me interested in learning about different cultures and gave me the opportunity to engage with people from different backgrounds. I was really surprised how people in other places do more with less. My first trip overseas was to the Dominican Republic for a tournament with the Dominican Junior National Team when I was 17. I’ll never forget how their shoes and uniforms were so old and the balls they played with were junky hard rocks. But they smoked us every match.
Now that I work overseas, sports are always a great way to break the ice and make friends. I’ve played volleyball and basketball with people in different countries. It’s a universal way to bond and you don’t need a lot of language skills.
What is your fondest memory as a student-athlete at Wisconsin?
Gosh, there are so many…I have to say running into the middle of the court to celebrate a point with my teammates is a feeling I’ll never forget.
Also, I’ll always remember the big wins and the big plays, but when it comes down to it, I loved the friendships I made. I think of all my Badger teammates as friends, but Aubrey (Meierotto), Odie (Jill Odenthal) and I lived in the same dorm and shared an apartment. I played with Odie since we were both 14. I went to her wedding and follow her progress in med school. Last summer I went to Aubrey’s wedding, which was a great big Badger reunion. Now that we’re grown ups, it’s funny to think back to our first day of practice. We couldn’t get through the first drill and Odie (now Dr. Sracic) spent the morning learning how to call the ball loudly.
What was the best thing about being a Badger?
Meeting Badger fans every place we traveled.
What was your favorite part of campus? Where did you spend most of your time?
I spent most of my time studying in the Fetzer Academic Center! My favorite place, however is the lakeshore path. I saw two sandhill cranes there this winter.
What advice would you give current student-athletes?
Keep in mind how few people are having the experience you’re having and how what you’re doing will make you better at all of your future endeavors.