Student Story
28 August 2019

Juggling Studies, Sport and Work: A Student Athlete’s Ambition

Diana Carballo Chanfón, originally from Mexico City, Mexico, is pursuing a Master in Development Studies. She is also an attacker for the Swiss national water polo team and works part-time at Sidley Austin Law Firm as Junior Coordinator for the Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program. Balancing studies with a demanding athletic schedule and a part-time job is a daunting task but one that has also given Ms Carballo ideas for change. 

I began my water polo career in Mexico City when I was eight years old, alongside my sisters and my brother. With the support of my parents, my sisters and I became part of one of the first generations of women to play water polo in Mexico, eventually representing our country in international tournaments. However, despite our passion and dedication, we faced many barriers: lack of support from the school system, corruption, lack of professionalism and organisation, and gender discrimination. So,  after many years of hard work and dedication,  we got recruited at different universities in the United States. There, we could  play at the highest collegiate level, while continuing to play for the Mexican national team.

After great frustration with the Mexican sports system and federation, I decided to take advantage of my Swiss citizenship and play for team Switzerland, which came with its own, unique challenges. As the only player on the national team living in Romandie, I spend many hours reading and doing homework on the train to go to practice in Zurich; I am constantly on the road. Another important obstacle is that there are no women water polo clubs in Geneva. Although the men’s club, Carouge Natation, has welcomed me, it can be difficult to be the only woman in the pool. Nonetheless, it helps me motivate and I always try to swim as fast or lift as much as the men. 

As part of the Swiss national team, there is a sense of responsibility to contribute to the development of water polo in this country, particularly in the French and Italian regions. It is important for me to promote sport culture and to continue to use sport as a catalyst for social integration, gender equality and health, which is why the Development Studies programme at the Institute is a perfect fit for me. 

As an athlete, I understand how the lack of equal opportunities in sports, especially for women, is a reflection of our society. I have witnessed how sport can change entire communities: it is about participation, inclusion and citizenship, with the power to mobilise, attract and inspire people. One of my objectives at the Graduate Institute is to explore further the intersections between sports, development, education, health and gender, and to understand better how to use sport as a tool in promoting peace, education and development.

At Sidley, I work for a programme that provides free legal support to eligible small- and medium-size for-profit enterprises and market-focused NGOs and non-profits that have a clear social impact in developing countries across Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The programme aims to benefit poor, rural and disadvantaged communities – particularly women – by supporting local businesses that provide enhanced employment and livelihood opportunities. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

Looking ahead, the next few months will be very intense but I am eager to see where this next journey will take me.  

The Graduate Institute works with high-level student athletes to adapt course work to demanding athletic schedules. For more information, please contact Laurent Neury

Photo Credit: Marist Athletics 

Keywords: Master in Development Studies