International student athletes look for team support when adjusting to life in Calgary
On the court, they look and play like any other players on the team — fast, skillful, prepared.
Off the court, however, they are dealing with many different issues than their Canadian teammates, adjusting to a new life as a university student athlete in a foreign country.
According to Marc Dobell, athletic services coordinator at Mount Royal University the most challenging part of being an international student athlete is that is so different from their life back at home.
"I think there is a lot of culture shock and getting used to the different norms over here. They have to establish a new social network; as well our educational system is different," he said.
Grigor Kartev came from Calais, France, to Calgary this year to play volleyball for the Mount Royal Cougars men's volleyball team. Unfortunately, he has been unable to play this semester.
Instead, he has had to take English for Academic Purposes classes because his English was not proficient enough to enroll in classes at the school. EAP classes are designed to help those with English as a second language prepare for University studies.
"I expected I would be able to play right away, so when I found out I had to do my EAP first I was disappointed, but I understand," he said. "If I pass my EAP I can play next semester."
There are three levels to EAP standardization. They increase from Level 1, which is for those with limited English, to the third level designed for those who already have an understanding of the language. Kartev must score an 80 percent average in his EAP classes — anything less is considered a fail — to play for the team next semester.
Although he was the one who wanted to come to Calgary and play volleyball while going to university, he has struggled with his lack of English skills.
"I have learned a lot of stuff both about school and volleyball, but I have learned it in English, my second language, not Serbian, my first language, which would be easier for me," he said. "The language transition has been hard."
Lack of English skills however isn't the only challenge international athletes face. Homesickness is also something common amongst these athletes being so far from their native country.
Jordan Power, a first-year Cougars volleyball player from Canberra, Australia, said that adjusting to life being so far away from his family has been the hardest part for him getting used to life in Canada.
However, with the help of teammates, adapting to life apart from family has become easier, he said.
"As soon as Grigor and I got here, the team took us out for drinks and welcomed us in straight away," Power said. "So that has made it a lot easier for me being away from home."
Teammate support is crucial for international athletes, according to Dobell. He said while there are no formal programs within the athletics department that support international athletes, support from the team, coaches and support staff is important to helping these athletes excel.
Gregory Mann, a first year biology student and volleyball player at the U of C from Brisbane, Australia, said that being here allowed him to play at a level not possible in Australia.
"It is more competitive here. We don't have a college league at home, so it is nice to be able to go to school and play volleyball," he said.
While getting used to our customs, such as celebrating Thanksgiving and eating turkey instead of seafood for Christmas dinner has been strange for Mann, he said that he is happy to be playing here with the support of his friends and team behind him- even if it does mean getting used to our different traditions.
"I didn't fully think the team would be this welcoming, " he said. "I had a few Skype sessions with coach so I knew he would be willing to help me out, but it is a lot more helpful when the whole team is behind you pushing you to succeed."
- By Caitlin Gajdostik