North Texas Daily

International student athletes adapt to new school, culture

International student athletes adapt to new school, culture

November 21
11:15 2013

Akshay Mirchandani / Staff Writer

Most UNT student athletes are from Texas or a nearby state, but there is a section of players in the Mean Green athletic department that are farther away than a few hours by car – as far as 6,962 miles away from Denton.

“This is a huge international community on campus,” head swimming coach Brendon Bray said. “It’s a really cool, diverse experience that they can get here in Texas and experience all the things in our culture and around campus.”

Out of the 31 members of the Mean Green swim and dive team, nine attended high school in a different country, including sophomore Jana Burkard and senior Sarida Muslow. Burkard is from Germany and moved to Denton just a week before the first semester of her freshman year. She said some of the advantages coming to the United States are the facilities that are available – such as the swimming practice area and campus as a whole.

“This whole thing, it doesn’t exist back home,” Burkard said. “I don’t think campuses actually exist, at least not like they do here with people living here and doing all of the out-of-school activities.”

Although Muslow was born in the U.S., her parents raised her in Israel after her family moved there when she was eight years old. She came back to the U.S. during the summer of 2011 before her first year at UNT and said that homesickness was a problem at times.

“When you come here you’re young, and a lot of times maybe you’re sad because it’s hard,” Muslow said. “The hardest part is, on those days when you kind of just want to be at home, you’re not there.”

Another challenge for an international athlete is trying to focus on their education and sport while also trying to adjust to the new culture. For sophomore tennis player Agustina Valenzuela, the process was even harder because she didn’t know much English.

“It was funny because I was going to class and I was trying to learn English,” Valenzuela said. “It was: first learn English, then study, and then tennis.”

Valenzuela is from Chile and is one of six international players on the tennis team out of seven players. The language barrier that she had to go through can be one of the biggest challenges for athletes that are from out of the country.

Bray said there are minimum English requirements for incoming athletes in the form of an English language test called TOEFL.

“[The challenges] are probably more logistical than anything else,” Bray said. “It’s getting used to the way classes are run.”

Despite the hardships these students face, it’s an overall great experience for the international athletes at UNT. Valenzuela said that there are opportunities that she has here that she was not able to take advantage of in Chile.

“Here is amazing,” Valenzuela said. “There are so many girls that play tennis. In Chile, we don’t have girls like that, and there are no tournaments. There’s like nothing.”

Burkard likes that there is more of an emphasis on the team here in the United States, rather individual athletes in Israel.

“It’s way easier to practice because you have people helping you through it,” Burkard said. “It’s just a lot nicer because you’re not by yourself.”

Bray said that one of the keys for an international athlete is to keep an open mind, because of how things could be different within the sport and outside it.

“This is kind of the same as any American student that comes on the team, is that you have to keep your mind open to new things,” Bray said. “The way we go about things might be a little bit different so you have to be open and embrace change.”

Muslow said she would encourage more athletes to come to the U.S. to compete in their respective sports and said it is an eye-opening opportunity.

“It’s a different feeling. It allowed me to mature and discover who I really am because I was away from my comfort zone in a place where it’s just different from me,” Muslow said. “I would tell everyone to come and stay for the full four years.”

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