By: Dominic Martino
Being an athlete in college can be a difficult challenge all in itself. Not only do athletes have to devote extra time to their sport, but they also are responsible for being a student. For Azusa Pacific athletes Vinicius Dantas, Alyssa Shury, Sarita Adhikary, and Abednego Magut, there’s a bigger challenge at play: culture shock. These athletes are not from the state that bears their conference name. In fact, they are not even from the United States. All four of these students are international athletes. All four are here making their home countries proud.
It’s the twenty-eighth minute in the opening round of the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) men’s soccer postseason playoffs. The Azusa Pacific University Cougars find themselves down a man. The sun is blistering down, an abnormally hot day for November. A foul by the other team places the ball 28 yards out. Two Cougars line up over the ball, preparing to send the soccer hurling through the air. The first Cougar runs up and stops just short of the ball. Promptly, the second Cougar winds up his right leg. He sends a gorgeous dipping ball over the wall and underneath the outstretched hands of the keeper. Just like that, the Cougars lead 1-0.
Welcome to the world of junior sociology major Vinicius Dantas.
The lone Brazilian player on the soccer team found out about the Cougars through word of mouth.
At 17, Dantas was recruited to play for a professional team located in Cleveland, Ohio.
“One of their players, Derek Potteiger, told me, ‘I shouldn’t sign a professional contract. I should go play college and get my academics paid for with scholarships,’” Dantas said. “That same guy knew the head coach, Phil Wolf, and he told Phil about me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Dantas chose APU and led the GSAC this season with 15 goals.
Despite his success, Dantas still felt he had to change his strategy. Compared to Brazil, he was forced to adjust to an entirely different style of play.
“In Brazil there are more skillful players, which makes the tactics different. In America, players run a lot and it’s a really physical game,” Dantas said. “In Brazil, it’s not physical at all. It’s tactical. Technique takes care of everything.”
Homesickness is another aspect of being an international student that Dantas deals with. Although he has no family in the U.S., his team quickly became his family.
“The soccer team just took me and they are my family,” Dantas said. “My roommates’ parents act like my parents and I can go to his house and hangout with his family. It’s just a brotherhood that’s really awesome.”
But does he regret leaving his home country to come to a small Christian school on the west coast?
“No, not at all,” said Dantas, who had other opportunities to play at NCAA Division 1 schools. “I felt like APU was the right thing to do. I don’t regret choosing to come to APU.”
The weather is partially cloudy. The runners standing near the blocks are getting ready for the start. They lower themselves into their stance, awaiting the fire of the gun. POP! The racers explode out of the blocks down the track, firing and pumping their legs with as much force as possible. A baton is handed off to a teammate. The process is completed two more times. As the last runner crosses the finish line, the time flashes on the scoreboard. The runners have just set the fastest 4 x 100 meter relay in school history since 1995.
That blur running by was junior sports psychology major Alyssa Shury.
Shury, from Surrey, British Columbia, found out about APU through her mother.
“My mom actually found it on the Internet,” Shury said. “We were in California for a track meet and she just looked up private schools in California.”
After trying out for the coaches, Shury decided this was the right school for her. Since then she has been a prominent figure on the APU track team.
Despite not having her family here, Shury has made a family of her own through this team.
“Being a part of the track team here has made my experience way better than it ever could have been,” said Shury, when recalling the transition from Canada to southern California. “It was hard moving away from home but being a part of that team made it a whole lot easier.”
Tucked away on west campus, she is practicing returning forehands and sending backhands. Wearing a red top with white bottoms, she pushes herself to get better on the court and not settle for last year’s fantastic finish as the number 2 ranked team in the nation. At home, in Nepal, she would have been one of the countries’ best. Here, she is fighting for the sixth spot.
Meet sophomore graphic design major Sarita Adhikary.
Adhikary, whose parents are missionaries in Nepal, heard about APU from two pastor kids at a supporting church.
“I was already looking for a smaller Christian school that had my major and a good tennis team,” Adhikary said.
The Nepal native lights up when remembering her visit and said, “I came here and looked at it. I loved it instantly and didn’t even look at any other schools.”
But coming such a long way from home to play a sport in a foreign country can have many challenges. The athletes and any student who transfers from another country have the potential to experience culture shock. Athletes also have the added pressure of adapting. In another county, playing a sport can look completely different either tactically, or competition-wise.
“There is a lot more competition here. Over there I’m number one for women’s and juniors, and here, I’m trying to make it to the top six,” said Adhikary, the Nepali tennis player. “I love the competition here. It’s made me such a better player.”
Not only did she have to adjust to the competition, but also the playing surface.
“Almost all the courts are clay,” Adhikary said. “[It] was a big adjustment trying to play on hard court here.”
Coming from Nepal, Adhikary also noticed a major difference in the culture of America.
“Definitely big shock, how neat everything is, how organized it is,” said Adhikary, whose favorite American store is Wal-Mart.
The cross-country team is tuning up for their latest meet. On today’s workout schedule, there’s an 8k run around the city of Azusa. They begin by running down this street, up the hill, and around this corner. One runner begins to separate from his teammates, just like he does in his races. He begins with the pack of runners but by the end of the 8k, he is all alone crossing the finish line first. He’s won another meet.
Meet junior accounting major and 3-time All-American athlete Abednego Magut.
Magut, who is originally from Kenya, is a transfer from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. Magut can thank his brother for helping him land at APU.
“My brother connected me [to Simpson College] and I started talking [to administrators] through the Internet,” Magut said. “I found two friends over here [who ran track] and went to school here. It was also a Christian school.”
Although Magut found familiarity on campus with his faith, he faced the challenge of running on a different surface. Last year at nationals, it was only the third time Magut has ever run on a track.
“Running on the track was fun for me because it is something new and running on the dirt is tough,” Magut said. “Running on the bare ground [is hard on the feet].”
That’s not the only first he’s experienced. Magut had his first Reese Peanut Butter Cup this last summer. Magut loved it, so much that he claimed it was the reason he came to America.
Coming from a small village in Kenya, Magut, also noticed a difference in culture.
“I had a lot of shock,” Magut said. “In Kenya, we are like community-based, where here it’s individualistic and capitalistic.”
Despite the many changes, Magut understands that something bigger is at play here. There’s something beyond the racetrack.
“I never had any plan to study abroad or to do stuff like that, but I don’t regret it,” Magut said. “I think it was God’s intentions for Him to make me come to school here.”