For many student athletes, deciding whether they want to go to school in-state or out-of-state is a hard choice, but for about 40 of the student athletes at Kansas State University, led to a trip around the globe to pursue athletic and academic opportunities in a country far from home.
Transitioning to Manhattan has been easy for some of these international student athletes, but it has been challenging for others.
Some of the things international student athletes need to get used to have been minor — what foods to eat and how to dress for the weather. But learning how to live in a different culture, fight home sickness and even speak a new language is no easy task.
Aaron Booth, junior in business administration, is a member of the K-State men’s track and field team. For Booth, coming from Auckland, New Zealand, has been quite the challenge due to the distance between him and his family.
“Having the 18-hour time difference from my mom, dad, sister and friends from home … and then just knowing that I can’t go to my mate’s house whenever I want, or I’m not going to see my sister for I don’t know how long, or I don’t know when I’ll see my parents next or go home next, that’s probably the hardest thing,” Booth said. “Just being so far away from loved ones and friends.”
For other athletes, being away from home has been more of a safe haven. Maria Linares, sophomore in business administration, is a member of the K-State tennis team from Maracay, Venezuela. Linares said she has found Manhattan to be a peaceful place where she doesn’t have to fear for her safety whenever she goes outside.
“Back home, we have a lot of problems right now like economic instabilities, so here, I feel more comfortable,” Linares said. “I can walk in the streets without any problems, I don’t have to be scared of something. … Back home, we have to be careful when we go out because sometimes something bad can happen to you.”
Linares said K-State Athletics helps her and other international athletes feel supported in their new home of Manhattan.
“Sometimes we can go to them and they support us like, ‘If you need help with something or [are] stuck, just ask because that is why we are here for you,'” Linares said. “I like the part of coming here where I have people to support me, so it’s cool.”
To help with the transition to an English-speaking city in Kansas, K-State Athletics created the Global Cats program. The program is run by K-State Athletics academic counselors Marissa Edwards and Maryclare Wheeler, and they work to build a community and network among international student athletes at K-State by hosting International Nights at the performance table where all student athletes dine.
Arin Dunn, director of student athlete development, has been a supporter of the International Nights initiative.
“They have an opportunity to get a taste of home and to … share their culture and their favorite foods with the rest of our student athletes here at Kansas State University,” Dunn said. “It’s tremendous for a cultural experience, but it also helps them feel a little bit more at home.”
K-State Athletics also hosts an International Thanksgiving for the athletes who aren’t able to travel home for the holidays during K-State’s fall break.
Booth said sharing meals with his fellow international student athletes helped him make new friends and develop a support system, which he added is one of his favorite parts of being an international student athlete.
“I think we are quite lucky here where we do have a lot of international students here,” Booth said. “I’ve talked to some of my other friends around schools at the U.S. and they don’t have a lot of internationals, so it’s quite cool getting to experience the way other cultures live — not only Americans, but Australians, Indians, Jamaicans, people from all around the world. I think that’s probably the best thing I’ve gained from this.”