TUM without borders: Christopher Chvalina, globetrotter
From deep-sea diving in Mexico to a soccer academy in South Africa
During the pandemic, Christopher Chvalina was generally stuck at home, where he spent most of his time following his online lectures. He found himself longing for distant shores, at least partly because he hoped to acquire international experience. In Mexico the 31-year-old, who hails from Bad Tölz, south of Munich, lived in a wooden cabin that often lacked running water. But as he is quick to point out: “I was actually living in comfort. The people nearby were worse off.”
Looking back, he says: “Those experiences taught me to value life and have helped me to become more grounded.” In Germany people enjoy levels of luxury far beyond their needs. He also recalls how impressed he was by the capacity of those he met to enjoy life, regardless of what they have.
Support through “TUM without borders”
Christopher’s stay in Mexico was funded under “TUM without borders”. In the Mexican village of Mahahual, with “perhaps 1000 inhabitants”, he completed an internship at the Takata Research Center and obtained certification as a professional diver. As part of a project dedicated to the restoration of a coral reef, he dived almost every day to check the planted corals and help to maintain their structure.
Before being outplanted in the wild, the corals are cared for in a nursery, “In a setup that looks like an upside down Christmas tree”, explains Christopher. Along with helping to raise corals, he conducted research at the diving station on trends in shark and ray populations. “It may sound very cool and scientific, but in fact they kept it fairly simple” – if only because research funding was often scarce. Because the project work was unpaid, he had to live off his savings from Germany.
“The most beautiful thing I experienced there was the underwater world. What you see above and below the surface are really two different worlds. Everything is mutually dependent. The interactions are amazing.” That made it even more upsetting for him to see the effects of human intervention, for example through the impact of climate change on the coral: “In the winter it is no longer cold enough and they die off.”
From Mexico to South Africa
Christopher is now living in the city of Somerset West, near Capetown, where he is working with the Young Bafana Soccer Academy, an NGO dedicated to soccer, education, nutrition and life skills. The goal is to take in children and youths from poor districts and educate them through soccer.
Christopher, who has coaching experience from his home club in Geretsried, Germany, is now putting those skills to good use. After school he picks up the children for training and drives them home afterwards. “It’s not just about giving. I’m also giving back – because I’m learning things from these kids, too.” He is receiving financial support under a Study/Work Abroad Grant from TUM.
“I love the chance to give them a little something through soccer,” he says. He also likes being able to take them out of the townships where they live with their families in corrugated tin shacks. Christopher wants to “raise awareness for how bad things really are there.” To understand it, he says, “You have to have experienced the smell. For people to be living in these conditions in 2022, it’s just shameful.”
Next stay abroad in the planning stages
He made his first extended trip abroad at 25 and since then has had a desire “to learn more about how life can be lived.” This has sparked “a certain curiosity about how the world works.” Through the connection to sports tourism at the diving center and training science at the soccer academy, has learned some useful things for his studies as well.
Before returning to Munich and TUM in June, he wants to travel through other African countries, take part in safaris and go diving in the Indian Ocean. But Munich will probably not hold him for long. He’s already planning his next stay abroad. The next destination: the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
- Christopher Chvalina is studying for a B.Sc. in sport science at TUM. Interviewing him in South Africa was far from easy. The only PC at the soccer academy with internet access is in heavy demand.
- TUM supports overseas academic activities arranged by students and university staff on their own initiative. Applications are accepted at all times: TUM without borders
- Christopher’s stay in South Africa is being funded under a Study/Work Abroad Grant from TUM: TUM study/work abroad grant