Behind the life of an international student-athlete
Scattered amongst the different sports at Fresno State, a small group of athletes are living a long way from home. Not from the Midwest or the East Coast, but instead people from other sides of the world, representing the likes of Chile, Germany, India, the UK and Egypt.
There are currently 29 international student-athletes on Fresno State’s different rosters, each individual choosing to take the plunge and move countries to pursue the aspiration of playing collegiate sports in America.
“There are so many opportunities in the U.S. at the university level,” said Jack Mulroy, a senior golfer from England.
Jamiee-Lee Morrow, an Australian sophomore on the volleyball team, also expressed the same opinion, explaining there was no way for her to study and play competitively if she had remained at home.
The U.S. is rare in its combination of academics and sports in college, as more often than not, the idea is unheard of in other nations. With academics being the primary focus at universities, an excelling athlete abroad has limited options to play competitive sport once leaving high school.
Consequently, some eager athletes consider the prospect of chasing a stint in America.
However, once they arrive, these international students are often overwhelmed by just how big college sports really are. The high level of organization, funding and facilities is often unimaginable in comparison to sport of the same level in their home countries.
“It’s crazy,” Morrow said. “I can’t believe how much money gets put into sports just for us to experience to play.”
Both Morrow and Mulroy agree the support from fans took them by surprise the most.
“It was amazing to see that amateur sports are televised and how the community is very supportive,” Mulroy said.
The size of college stadiums was a particular surprise for the golfer.
“To think that most football stadiums at an amateur level are bigger than premier soccer stadiums – crazy!” he said.
For Morrow, playing in front of big crowds was something she never experienced until she came to Fresno State.
“Volleyball isn’t the biggest sport here, but compared to where I used to play, there was 20 people max,” she said. “Now there’s thousands at our games so I think it’s pretty cool.”
But aside from the sports, foreign athletes are often dealing with culture shock for the first time when moving to the U.S.
Lisa James, an international admissions specialist at Fresno State, says this type of cultural experience “makes you pull your own resources.”
“You draw on your innate talents and innate ability to provide for you in a way, because it totally takes you out of your comfort zone,” James said.
“I think that’s a good thing, because it kind of gives you a challenge,” she continued. “It encourages you to change if you need to or make positive adjustments.”
Reflecting on his four years spent away from home, Mulroy said the independence has bought him a new sense of freedom and forced him to grow up.
And also, Mulroy had to wait for until he left England to have his first PB&J sandwich.
“I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the first time,” Mulroy laughed. “I really liked it!”
For Morrow, the funniest experience is listening to the American national anthem every game, admitting she just thinks of the Australian version the whole time.
“It’s so weird!” she laughs. “I just stand there. I don’t sing along.”
While this cultural shock introduces international students to new foods, new traditions and new systems, the interaction between foreign nationalities is a two-way street, with American students often having their own horizons widened.
Athletic trainer Sarah Tackett frequently works with international athletes, highlighting that they often help their American teammates gain a more worldly view.
“I think often American kids are only familiar with the world that’s right in front of them,” Tackett said. “So sometimes it kind of opens their eyes to different things and different cultures.”
James also shares this view, emphasizing that having international students is an important dynamic for any university, not only for the individual studying but also for the local students and community.
“They may not be able to go somewhere else to study, but at least they’re getting that interaction with students from a place that they’ve never been before,” James said.
Nadia Pearl is a Fresno State soccer player from New Zealand.
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