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Eagle teams cover the globe: Athletes make adjustments to different culture

Friday, October 26, 2007  
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By Tyler Hancock

The pressures of school can be difficult for any student. The pressure to do well is sometimes doubled for student-athletes who are expected to perform well in their sport and in the classroom.

For the 21 athletes representing 14 nations at Oklahoma Christian University, being a student-athlete in a foreign culture adds a third dimension most students don’t have to deal with.

“It’s hard learning in classes when you are having a hard time with the language,” soccer player Cristian Fernandes said. “I don’t want people to help me because I don’t know English well. Sometimes I get help from the teachers and friends, but I like to figure things out by myself.”

For Southampton, England native Charlotte Heron, the language does not cause problems, but growing up in a different country sometimes causes an education gap.

“The education system is different,” Heron said. “Sometimes I know more or less than other students so I sometimes will get very bored in a class, or have to do extra work.”

Even the way classes are set up causes problems for international student-athletes.

“A lot of the international kids are studying in a way that is completely foreign to them in how they listen and how they read,” head golf coach David Lynn said. “It shows how motivated they are to come over here and be successful in the classroom. I can’t imagine going through a Spanish institution to get a degree.”

Being from a different culture also causes difficulties in meeting other students and can cause some miscommunication.

“It can also be difficult connecting with fellow students simply because of our different cultures and upbringings,” Heron said. “Usually when other students realize I am from England, they ask me questions about me, but after the initial meeting I am usually treated the same.

“Sometimes I actually have to remind them that I am not from America and some things are different where I’m from.”

International athletes hear about Oklahoma Christian and are brought to the school in different ways and for different reasons. For Fernandes, playing soccer for the Eagles was a chance to get away from his home.

The soccer star from Maringa, Brazil said life in the United States can be much less dangerous and provide more opportunities after school. He said he has no desire to return to his home, but wants to bring his family to America after he graduates.

Fernandes heard about Oklahoma Christian from fellow Brazilian and current assistant coach for the women’s soccer team, Ivan Coco. He said Coco encouraged him to come to Oklahoma Christian because Coco thought he would fit in well at the school.

Lynn said former players, like Coco, telling their friends about Oklahoma Christian has been one of his best recruiting tools.

“The best players I’ve had have been players that come to Oklahoma Christian because they’ve known somebody on the team already,” Lynn said.

Lynn said recruiting services also help coaches get in touch with international players.

“A lot of former players with the NAIA or NCAA are seeing the need for a middle man in helping bring the international kids over to the states, Lynn said. “A lot of those guys are starting up recruiting services to get athletes hooked up with the right program.”

These services help to connect players to coaches in the United States. These middle men inform coaches of players they feel will fit well in their program. From that point, coaches recruit the players on their own.

Bringing in international athletes provides Oklahoma Christian the opportunity to be an influence on the athletes.

“I’ve seen kids come in that are completely un-churched and this school has had an effect on them and by the time they leave, they are attending church somewhere,” Lynn said. “I’ve also seen kids come in and it be a turn off to them because they are from cultures that are different from what they came from. A lot of things they did at home they are told they can’t do.”

Heron said the university has been a good influence on her and she enjoys the Bible classes and attending church services with friends. For , Oklahoma Christian has provided a family atmosphere.

“The people here are nice, cool people,” said. “They look to help other people who need to be helped and it feels like a family here. Being away from my family is the hardest thing ever because I want to take care of my family.”

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