Florida's foreign athletes adjust to life in the U.S.
The University of Florida is home to many athletes from foreign countries, and their transition to America wasn't an easy one.
“Leaving home is hard," Gator swimmer Jack Szaranek said. "Leaving your family behind, leaving everything behind and all your friends, never getting to see them again.”
Swedish guard Paulina Hersler added, “The culture, obviously the language, how people are, what you eat, what you do, everything is basically different."
Hersler's teammate Funda Nakkasoglu, who moved away from Australia, is another foreign player on the women's basketball team. “It was pretty big considering I left my whole entire family, friends, everything I know back home to come to a foreign country.”
Some of the athletes were fortunate enough to speak English prior to the move, but a few of them had to learn the language before playing here.
“I couldn’t speak any English, so I had to reach a certain level English to start my college course," junior midfielder Lais Araujo said. "It was a pretty hard task for me. I was the only international on the team too so it was kinda hard.”
Alfredo Perez, who plays for Gator tennis, made the jump from Cuba with his family when he was younger. His inability to speak English made it hard for him to communicate with umpires and his opponents, and prevented him from making friends.
In addition to the varying culture, their respective sport's style of play differs as well.
Nakkasoglu says basketball is more physical in the United States compared to Australia, and the same goes for basketball in Sweden. “Oversees is more of a read and react, you’re playing smart, swinging the ball, you’re playing more open," Hersler said. "Here it’s very physical, it’s athletic and it’s quick. Everything has to happen right away. Athleticism is a big difference compared to the European basketball and the pace of the game.”
As a swimmer, the NCAA offers a competitive environment that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. “College swimming is much more competitive over here," Mark Szaranek said. "The teams are better. The teams are stacked. One other significant difference is the way the team aspect is over here. Back home it’s very individual. It’s all about what you can do as an individual, what you can achieve in the sport. Over here it’s very much what can I do for the team?”
Swimmer Bayley Main, who's from New Zealand, added, “Back home we don’t really have this type of system in school. You’re just on your own until you stop swimming. Here you’re a tight group of people who work as a team which I really enjoy.”
Another difference Main came across is a different perspective behind the wheel. “Driving would be the biggest thing because we drive on the other side of the road and it took me a while to get used to that," Main said. "When I got back home, because my street doesn’t have any road markings, I was driving and forgot what side to be on until a car came toward me.”