FAR FROM HOME: International Athletes Adapt to Life in Rindge

Left-to-right: field hockey's Demi Sahuleka, volleyball's Ellie Ivanova, field hockey's Feline van Doorn (photo credit: Meg Stokes).
Left-to-right: field hockey's Demi Sahuleka, volleyball's Ellie Ivanova, field hockey's Feline van Doorn (photo credit: Meg Stokes).

By Samantha Noorwood, staff writer.

Traveling to college is a stressful and exciting time for young adults, especially as a collegiate athlete. However, the situation is even more stressful when you are leaving your home country to do so. Franklin Pierce University has many international student-athletes who come from all over the world to attend school. Why? For the love of the sport.

When these athletes come to the United States, they are often faced with a major difference. “There’s a cultural shock for the first two months,” explains volleyball player Elena Ivanova from Bulgaria. “The USA is so much bigger than my country.”

As you would expect, it takes a little while to adjust. Climate is a huge part of this. “The cold takes some getting used to,” said Veronica Marques who plays women’s soccer and hails from Brazil.

For others it’s the opposite. “The heat is hard to handle at first,” said field hockey player Feline van Doorn from the Netherlands.

The United States also has many different customs that aren’t the same as in other countries. “That’s the hardest thing, leaving home, all your friends and customs,” said women’s soccer player Keyla Gonzalez Jaen of Costa Rica.

That’s the general consensus among the athletes: the US is very different from home. “No matter where you are people always say hi, even if you don’t know them,” said field hockey player Demi Sahuleka of the Netherlands. “In the Netherlands they just ignore you.”

For other athletes, it is differences in the way sports are played that affect them the most. Regardless of the fact that the sports they play are the same, many of these athletes see differences in styles of play. Women’s soccer player Christina Barbellido from Spain said, “In America, soccer is very physical and athletic, but in Spain, it’s more tactical. I think that’s why our team does well. We have a mix of both.”

Another major adjustment for the athletes is the food. “I was sick for two weeks because I wasn’t used to the food,” said Sahuleka.

Many international students face this issue. US food just isn’t the same. “For us at home, we cook with natural things. Here a lot of things are frozen before,” said Marques.

For many, the language barrier isn’t as bad as most people would expect. “We start learning English in grade school. You have to know three languages to graduate,” said van Doorn, of growing up in the Netherlands.

Some international athletes believe it’s hard to communicate because the other students can’t understand what they’re trying to say. “We have an accent,” said men’s soccer player Javier Gonzalez Carraminana from Spain. “It’s really hard when you’re playing. Some words are different than in Spain and when you’re tired it’s really difficult.”

Fellow teammate Niklas Laudahn from Germany also adds, “At some point, you start to think in English, some point you start to dream in English, and that’s when you know you’re here.”

One major question many people have for them is why the United States? Laudahn explains it by saying, “In the United States you have the unique opportunity to combine your studies with your sport, which is not the case in Europe. That’s why I wanted to come here. I gave it a shot and I don’t regret it.”

The US is said to be the land of opportunity, and that’s why they chose it, along with the help of Franklin Pierce’s coaches. “I came because of coach Ruben [Resendes]. He came to Spain and recruited me,” explains Carraminana.

Although the athletes come from different areas of the world, there is one clear thing they all have in common: their team is their family. “The team is going above my expectations. They’re very supportive,” said Ivanova.

“People take me in, take me home, give me meals,” said van Doorn.

Athletes from every sport have felt this way. “The team brings us all together and makes us feel like a family,” said women’s soccer player Gabi Pereira of Brazil.

Franklin Pierce has a variety of international students representing a variety of genders, ages, sports, and nationalities, but one thing is for sure: their diverse culture enhances the school community. Although they come here to learn, they inevitably end up teaching those around them as well.