TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At first, Michael Barulich saw it as an opportunity to travel.
To spend four days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he would see the sights, meet the people and eat the food from one of South America’s most famous destinations.
And, along with seven other Florida State student-athletes, Barulich, a junior receiver on the FSU football team, did all those things.
But they also did so much more.
Earlier this month, representatives from five FSU sports – football, softball, soccer, volleyball and women’s basketball – embarked on a four-day mission trip to Argentina through Florida State’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The trip was organized in part by former FSU receiver Kez McCorvey (1990-94), who now serves as the multi-area director for North Florida FCA. Reggie Hutchins, FCA’s FSU/FAMU/TCC campus director and a regular at FSU football practices also attended the trip, as did FSU director of player development Trae Hackett.
“When I first heard of it, I was like, ‘Dang, I want to travel. That’s really cool,’” said Barulich, an Orlando native. “But it was a mission trip. I had never done something like that … like go and really try to help people in other countries.”
WATCH: FSU Student-Athletes Visit Argentina With FCA
The travel party – which included Barulich, tight end Tre’ McKitty, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, receiver Caleb Ward, soccer defender Taylor Hallmon, volleyball middle blocker Tiana Jackson, women’s basketball guard Izabella Nicoletti and former softball pitcher Tessa Daniels – loaded two vans and drove overnight to Miami.
From there, it was a nine-hour flight into Buenos Aires.
“It was a great time,” McKitty said. “I got to get closer with a lot of the student-athletes that are here and just make an impact on other peoples’ lives.”
The student-athletes did a number of service projects in and around Buenos Aires. At a shelter for persons with disabilities, they cleaned and painted.
And at a children’s home for single mothers, they cleared and leveled land for a new volleyball court.
But the most popular projects, for the football players at least, were the American football workshops put on for both kids and adults around the city.
While Argentina is crazy for soccer – and the FSU contingent played plenty of soccer, too – the Seminoles were surprised to discover just how much of an appetite the nation had for the gridiron.
“They were all down there trying to learn the game of football,” Ward said. “We got to teach them. Even the simple things like how to break their routes better. To us, it’s basic stuff. For some of them, that might have changed their whole game.”
Added Kaindoh: “I could tell that they already had prior knowledge, and that they’d been studying and watching their own stuff. But it was just great to share my knowledge with them. And a lot of them were older than me, so that was cool.”
There were plenty of eye-opening experiences, as well.
After driving into the heart of Buenos Aires, the FSU student-athletes saw examples of extreme poverty.
“Of course there were nice areas,” Barulich said. “But the bad areas were like nothing I had ever seen before. Some people didn’t have doors on their houses.”
In their own dorms, arranged through FCA, the Seminoles shared small bunk beds and used bottled water to brush their teeth.
And they felt lucky to be able to do that.
“It was very humbling,” Kaindoh said. “It brings you back down to earth to see it. … To go and see how other people are living. Little kids living like grown people.”
But despite seeing the challenges that many in Argentina face, the Seminoles also noticed something from virtually every man, woman or child that they met.
“Even the people who had nothing,” Kaindoh said. “Their spirits and attitudes were just great.”
“Everyone isn’t blessed with what we have here,” Ward added. “But everybody deserves that compassion and a little bit of effort put toward them so they can be the best they can be. It humbles you a lot, getting to see the environment that other people in the world live in.”
When they weren’t working, the Seminoles made sure to experience the sights, sounds and flavors of Buenos Aires.
They visited The Casa Rosada – “The Pink House,” Argentina’s version of the White House – and tried a variety of foods not often found on American menus.
Kaindoh said he ate beef kidneys, fire-grilled pig intestines and cow tongue.
“I just wanted to try to something different,” he said with a laugh.
For McCorvey, “something different” might have been the best way to describe the entire trip.
A former national champion at Florida State who spent three years in the NFL, McCorvey has stayed connected to the FSU and Tallahassee communities through coaching and through FCA.
To go on a trip like this – to even be interested in a trip like this – McCorvey said a student-athlete needs not only a spirit of adventure but also a passion for service.
“Because a mission trip,” he quickly reminds, “is not a vacation.”
Indeed, McCorvey watched as the Seminoles sweat together and later as they ached together, and watched as they went without the types of modern amenities that are easy to take for granted at home.
Through it all, they maintained positive attitudes and, by the end, felt they had all grown closer together.
Because of that, McCorvey said he left Argentina feeling “as proud as I’ve been, being a Nole, that I can remember.”
“To go somewhere else,” he added, “and see a different way of life and be selfless enough to go out there and share your talents and skills with the people there, I think what they got out of that was huge.”
No surprise, then, that McCorvey and FCA have no plans to stop. He said that they’ll continue to plan regular service events throughout Tallahassee, and that, going forward, they’d like to have two international trips per year.
They’ve already got some willing participants.
“Most definitely,” Kaindoh said, when asked if he’d like to take another trip.
And as far as McCorvey is concerned, that type of attitude is the continuation of a legacy that Florida State established years ago.
Back when his old teammates, Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, were at the forefront of athletes choosing to make a difference in their world.
“When you think about Florida State, I want people to think about service,” McCorvey said. “When you think about Florida State, you think about selflessness. That’s the culture, that’s the identity that I want my university to have.
“Yes, we play great sports and we play ball and we kick some butt. But also, we’re involved. We’re involved in our community. … We want to be able to prepare those guys for service after they leave school – ‘What are you doing for our community? What are you doing to make our country and our world a better place?’ I’m proud of that.”