International students bond through athletics while learning new culture

Reagan Lee | Banner | Samantha Martirez, senior information technology management, practices her swing while staying in competition shape during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California Baptist University athletics attracts many international students to study and compete in the United States, with some teams having more international athletes than American athletes.

The cross country and women’s golf teams are  teams whose rosters are predominantly filled by international students.

Jocelyn Chee, senior applied statistics major and captain of the women’s golf team, said it is fun to be in a diverse team as people from different cultures bring in different personalities.

“Obviously, not all personalities match with each other, but for the most part, it’s never boring,” Chee said. “It’s a go-to topic for us to talk about and introduce our culture, so there’s a conversation going every time.”

The women’s golf team is represented by athletes from seven different countries. They try different snacks, share different games and listen to different songs.

“My main job is to tell each one of the girls to be proud of their country, heritage and how their family brought them up, and share that to other people,” said Marc Machado, head coach of women’s golf. “But they have to remember, that even if we are from seven different countries we are uniting as one team, as CBU women’s golf.”

The women’s golf team has each of their bags embroidered with their name and their national flags. Machado said it gives them a sense of pride in their country.

Chee said she did not have to adjust much to lead the team as the captain because they naturally bond well, learning about one anothers  different cultures. 

She said she tries to be a person everyone on the team can talk to, especially the international freshmen so she can guide them.

“When I choose food for our tournament trips, I’ll try to find restaurants that serve food from where my teammates are from,” Chee said. “They get so happy when we get them and introduce the food to the rest of us.”

International student-athletes need to adjust to the environment and the team. 

Chee said it helps that she is surrounded by teammates from different countries.

“Being around people from different countries, I get to learn more about other cultures. It’s interesting because everyone is also curious about each other’s culture, and while exchanging culture, we naturally just became closer to each other,” Chee said. “I believe that being on a diverse team helps regardless if you are an international student or not.”

Most team rosters are still predominantly American, requiring international student-athletes to adjust more to American culture.

“I sometimes cannot keep myself away from comparing Americans student-athletes to us (internationals),” said Buse Topcu, senior nutrition major and long-distance swimmer from Turkey. “Their mindset is so different from us but I like how positive they are.”

Every team at CBU has international student-athletes competing on them. Topcu said having teammates that came from different countries helps because she does not feel alone.

“At least I know I am not the only one who thinks differently. Someone can understand me in some areas,” Topcu said. “We have empathy for each other because we are all away from home.”

Machado said he respects international students’ courage to trust coaches and live in the United States, leaving behind their friends and family.

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