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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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International flavor plentiful in Aggie Athletics

While Texas A&M’s recent success in athletics can be attributed to a number of different things, a major contributor has been the international student athlete.
Currently, 33 of the more than 500 student-athletes at A&M list a foreign country as their home. One out of every 15 athletes at Texas A&M is of international descent, representing 19 different countries on all habitable continents.
But regardless of where they are from, A&M’s international athletes share a common bond in that they left their homelands to study and compete as Aggies. The transition from the country where you grew up to a college campus in Texas is not always easy.
“It’s been difficult to balance school and track so far,” said freshman track and field jumper Julian Reid. “Compared to Jamaica, socially, America has much more limitations that can be frustrating at times.”
As opposed to much of the rest of the world, the United States’ age limits, combination of education and athletics and transportation has proven to be the three biggest hurdles for an international athlete to adjust to.
“In London we have buses, cabs, subways, railroads, and so many more options that made getting around easy,” said junior track and field jumper Yasmine Regis. “Here it is so much more car oriented. In England we don’t have stop lights, only stop signs, that along with driving on the right side of the road was challenge inside of itself.”
The major transition many athletes stressed was the combination of education and sport at one institution. Overseas high schools don’t usually field athletic teams and hardly on the scale of American high schools. For many athletes they participated in clubs and tryouts for their countries national team. When it’s time for college, international athletes face a tough choice of pursuing either a quality education or a quality athletic experience. That’s what makes American universities, places where one can pursue academic and athletic excellence at once, so appealing.
“Until I joined a club I just knew I could run,” Regis said. “Here the focus on sports is much earlier while in England it’s just college and pro, top or nothing.”
While trying to balance school work, practice and athletic competition has been a major issue for international athletes, the biggest transition to America is one that many college students go through, homesickness.
“Looking back on it, the most difficult transition has to be leaving my family,” Regis said. “Initially I was so excited to come here but by sophomore year I really started missing my family. Back home you need to compete more and sign up individually. My mom and I traveled the country going to meets and for a long time we were a two person team. Now A&M takes care of the hotel rooms, food, and meets but my mom isn’t here to travel with me, so it’s still a little different.”
Of course not all things are the same. Some countries undergo more hardships than others. Many of A&M’s student athletes hail from countries that once made up the Soviet Union. Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, and Hungary are all countries represented at A&M.
Triin Aljand, a junior swimmer from Estonia, continued to live in Estonia until deciding to come to A&M.
“Because it was so long ago, I have trouble remembering, but Estonia is getting better and better,” Aljand said. “It’s definitely one of the countries that are better off since the break up.”
While Aljand has pursued an education and academic career at A&M, she still participates in international events as an Estonian. Aljand is on the national team, swam in the 2004 Olympics and will swim in the upcoming Olympics in China.
“It’s a lot different than here because we don’t practice together,” Aljand said. “We’re all still friends though and it’s fun to get together, swim for our country, and participate in all the different events, especially the Olympics. In 2004 I was really nervous the first time around and had trouble focusing. This time I think I’ll do much better.”
Aljand isn’t the only Aggie that will be represented in China. Her teammate Julia Wilkinson is currently in Canada participating in the Canadian National Trials. She has qualified for six Olympic events and has been the star of the trials. She has also set several Canadian national records in the process.
While A&M’s international student athletes have brought much to the table over the years, getting them to College Station in the first place is a difficult process.
“It’s a lot tougher because of communication and time differences as well as different sorts of issues and barriers, especially with it being overseas and the language barrier,” said men’s golf coach JT Higgins. “They don’t have university sports and getting them to understand the process and the paperwork is difficult. However, there is much less competition for players. We’re usually dealing with kids who want to play and are very excited to be here. They are not bored with process because there aren’t so many more coaches calling. The logistics are tough but from a competitive standpoint it can be much easier.”
Higgins coaches two international athletes on the golf team, Ignacio Elvira of Spain and Andrea Pavan of Italy.
“We get lots of opportunities to see Texas kids,” Higgins said. “For international kids we usually get one shot though. After that it’s trying to make them understand the process and getting paper work done. Many kids don’t understand how far in advance the transfer process needs to begin.”
Deciding to find and pursue Elvira and Pavan though wasn’t as simple as offering a scholarship to a stud at the local high school.
“We try to recruit the best athletes in America,” Higgins said. “However it seemed we were everyone’s second choice one year and it didn’t get us many players. We went to Europe, and went to see the European boys team championship. There we saw Elvira and Pavan and determined they had what it takes to be among the best in our recruiting class that year.”

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