Q&A with International Swimmers at U.S. Universities

UH Drone Planet: Pool
Photo Courtesy: Jonas Gutzat

By Kate Santilena, Swimming World College Intern.

As competitive swimmers, we come across, compete against, train with and befriend many fellow athletes from across the globe. Swimming is a worldwide sport shared among many nations, and a few athletes choose to attend universities in the United States. Why travel across vast oceans to leave their home country behind?

Here are some answers and insight on the experiences of a few international swimmers who have made the journey to a U.S. university.


Photo Courtesy: Julie Funasaki Yuen

Swimming World:Why did you decided to go to school in the United States versus in your home country?

Cecilia Zaccarelli, Brazil: I decided to go to school in the United States, because in Brazil it is really hard to be an athlete and student at the same time. Athletes don’t get support nor investment from colleges to play their sports in a high level, and high level club teams don’t encourage athletes to study. Therefore, most athletes in Brazil end up not going to college and just focusing on their sports career. However, when they get to their thirties, they retire from swimming without a college degree. I never wanted my future to look like that, so I decided to get out of my comfort zone and pursue a degree while swimming at a high level.

SW: Did you face a language barrier coming to the U.S.?  

Jonas Gutzat, Germany: It was more learning how to speak English in a fluent, everyday kind of way – including understanding it with accents. For example, I had a teacher who had an accent my freshman year, and I could only understand half of what they were saying. It was hard enough trying to understand the lecture in English versus German, but it was even more difficult having the challenge of deciphering the English.

Metin Aydin, Turkey: I had to get used to lectures in the beginning. Every professor has a different accent and speech tempo. That was harder to adjust to.

Table of food

Photo Courtesy: Katie Seaton

SW: Did you experience any type of “culture shock”?

David Springhetti, Italy: Being from Italy, the food is very different here. With that said, I believe that it is important to be open minded and willing to adjust to other cultures. I would say there was no “cultural shock” for me because I was willing and open for new things.

Ana Kotonen, Finland:There are a lot of different things here than in Finland! For example, the amount of plastic used in the U.S. just threw me off. Every time you go get dinner, it is sold in a single-use container with plastic utensils, and the fact that people eat out so much more and do not cook at home was so weird to me. Also, the concept of Costco-type stores was something very new. Buying food in big packages that you’ll eat for days was not something we had back home. In addition, the U.S. uses different units for everything. For example, swimming in yards instead of meters was something completely bizarre.

SW: What do you feel was the greatest thing you had to adapt to in the United States?

Phoebe Hines, Australia: The greatest thing I had to adapt to was swimming, walking and driving on the other side of the road! You wouldn’t realize how many times I would run into people on footpaths subconsciously walking on the wrong side.

Olli Kokko, Finland: The biggest thing for me is probably having such a tight schedule all the time as a student-athlete. There’s not really time for anything extra. You just live in your student-athlete bubble.

UH underwater freestyle

Photo Courtesy: Jonas Gutzat

SW: Is there a difference in the training you receive at your U.S. University than what you had back home?

Franziska Weidner, Germany: There was a huge difference in training! Back home, I trained at a club that focused a lot on distance. For example, we did 5,000 meters fast or 10×400 fast test sets on a regular basis. Also, everyone trained together, no matter if your main event was the 50 meter butterfly or 800 meter freestyle. There was no individualism in training like I received in the U.S. The training in the U.S. made me find my passion for swimming again.

UH Swimmers

Photo Courtesy: Matt Holland

SW: Have you ever experienced any type of homesickness? If so, how do you make it better?

Bryndis Hansen, Iceland: I mostly get homesick around the holidays, but then it helps to Skype with friends and family.

Frida Berggren, Sweden: Yes, especially during my first half of the year at the university. It was a lot to adjust to and sometimes difficult when some things turned out the opposite of what you expected. With the help of family, coaches, amazing teammates and friends, it got a lot better with time.

UH Break

Photo Courtesy: Jonas Gutzat

SW: What is something you love about swimming for your U.S. university?

Phoebe Hines, Australia: The thing I like most about swimming in the U.S. is the team atmosphere. My experience swimming at home was mostly independent. I had one or two training partners around my speed, but it was mostly individual. Coming to swim here in the U.S., I have 40 teammates at every practice training hard and wanting to win the conference title as a team. I had never experienced swimming for a group bigger than yourself before and that is what I love most.

Leaving home to come to the United States can be both a scary and exhilarating adventure. Athletes who have taken this journey have various experiences; from what was discussed overall, they are pleased with the decision to leave home.

All interviews are conducted by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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