Seventeen athletes. Ten countries. One goal: to play a collegiate sport.
International students come to Southern in pursuit of athletic opportunities and to experience a culture different from their homeland.
One example is Paula Tattari, a senior forward for the women’s basketball team, who left her home in Finland.
“I feel like Southern found me,” Tattari says. “One of my old coaches put me in touch with Coach [Kate] Lynch and when I checked out the Southern website, I knew that this was it. That’s where I’m supposed to go to school.”
Tattari, a transfer student from The University of Mobile in Alabama, says moving to Connecticut was a much easier transition.
“Alabama and Finland were like night and day, and it was extremely difficult.
Finns tend to be more on the quiet side, at first, and less expressive with our emotions. It took a while for my teammates and friends in Alabama to get used to that,” she says.
“Connecticut was easier though. The weather and the people are closer to what they are like back home.”
Unlike some athletes that go abroad for college, Tattari did not have a language barrier.
“We started to learn English in the first grade, so I’ve been speaking English for a good while,” the Kerava native says.
Tattari’s teammate, Kiana Steinauer, a senior forward on the basketball team, is from Canada and decided to study in United States because she liked the idea
of playing for the NCAA.
She says she thinks basketball here is more competitive. And there are more opportunities such as experiencing a new country.
“It’s just a cool opportunity to come internationally and experience a different country,” says Steinauer.“I mean, Canada’s kind of similar, but it’s definitely a cool experience being so far away from home.”
Her parents are natives from Seattle and according to Steinauer, both played college sports.
Her mother played basketball while her father played football. Despite having American parents, she says it was an eye opener coming to Connecticut because Canada is more diverse.
“It was kind of interesting to come here and see everyone just speak English,” she says. “Canada does speak French. We have to learn it.”
The recruitment process for Steinauer involved participating in tournaments to showcase her skills to potential recruiters. It was in Washington, D.C., that Lynch saw her potential and how she ended up at Southern. She did get offers from other schools, but says she loved the overall vibe at Southern.
“I really liked Southern and I liked the community. The team really felt like a family,” she says. “I liked New Haven. I thought it was a really cool city to be in.”
Despite knowing English to speak, she says she struggles in English writing class at the start. As an example, she points to the spelling of color is “colour” in Canada, and that the formatting for written papers in Canada is different.
Men’s soccer head coach Tom Lang says that over his 23 years in his position, he has had many international students play on the soccer team, some from Canada, South America and many from European countries.
“We’ve had quite a diverse group here over the years,” he says.
Francisco Roldan Martin is a senior forward on the men’s soccer team. He came to Southern from Malaga, Spain, and is one of the international athletes leaving a good impression on Lang.
“[Martin is a] very motivated young man. He is an outstanding player and he’s an outstanding individual,” Lang says.
“He’s going to be graduating early. And we’re very excited and pleased that he’s found good success [at Southern] both academically and athletically.”
Lang met Martin through a recruitment service and through communication technologies like Skype and WhatsApp. The coach also contacted the sport club that Martin played for in Spain for a video of his athletic capabilities and to gain more insight on the content of his character.
“We were introduced to him from a recruiting service,” says Lang, “which is something that’s come about in the last 10 years. There are services that help students find a good fit for them academically and athletically.”
Martin says that at the beginning of his time at Southern, it was difficult because he needed to adapt to the soccer culture and the culture of the United States. In Spain, he was raised in a British schooling system but after studying at Southern, he says he came to find he prefers the U.S system of education.
“I prefer the U.S. system because it is more practical. It gets into more case-by-case analysis. Back in Spain it is more theoretical,” Martin says.
Martin says there are times he misses being home.
“My freshman year [I was] homesick, being only with the international players and students,” he says. “I got used to it, I mean, I was being a sociable person. I like to be with other people.”
Martin’s advice for future international athletes, who wish to attend Southern, is rooted in confidence.
“Be confident and be strong,” he says. “The first semester is always really hard at any aspect.”
Lang says that international students tend to excel academically and athletically at Southern.
“I would say 95 percent of the international students that I have had of all graduated have all had above a 3.0, 3.5 GPA,” Lang says. “[International athletes are] very committed to their academics.”
Ken Sweeten, associate director of athletics/athletic communication, says international students persevere through their obstacles and still excel at Southern.
“What I think was most impressive to me is that some of them have had to overcome a language barrier,” he says.
“They still excel in all their studies or some of our best students academically and athletically.”
For Tomas Terrugi, a freshman on the men’s soccer team who came from Tornquist, Argentina, he says he thought the language, and the American culture, were the most challenging parts of the transition.
“I knew some English before moving here, but it cost me a lot when I had to speak and understand other people because they spoke so fast,” Terrugi says.
“But, life in general was a huge change coming from Argentina to the United States. Argentinian people are very sociable people who share a lot of time with friends and family, and we have very simple customs that make us happy and those things I miss the most.”
Homesickness often comes when a student goes to away to college for the first time. But for these athletes, home is thousands of miles away, a seven-hour time difference and 10-hour flight away.
Graduating from a college in the United States is the most rewarding and beneficial part to Terrugi.
“The experience of coming here and being able to have a degree in this country is very important,” he says.
“I think this country has high values on what everyone does and is properly remunerated. I say this because I come from a country where this does not always happen.”
Many international athletes miss the familiarity of home, whether that be their friends, family or pets.
But, aside from those comforts, Tattari misses a certain sweet snack.
“The chocolate,” says Tattari. “It’s weird because I don’t eat that much chocolate when I’m home, but when I’m here, I crave it. It’s so much better than American chocolate and anyone who has tasted it across the pond will agree.”
Paula Nunez, a graduate student who plays on the women’s soccer team as a left-back, was recruited through an agency like Martin. Her coach, Adam Cohen, says that a year ago, the university had the ability to have coaching staff go to other countries to personally meet players, but ceased due to lack of funds.
“We used to be able to travel to different countries to recruit and we could see the player in person and get to know them in their own country,” says Cohen.
The recruitment process for Nunez was through an agency, and many video calls were taken to ensure Southern was a right fit for her.
“With Paula, we got to know each other a little bit better with lots of video calls.
“And, you know, you try to find out if they’re going to be a fit for Southern Connecticut and our soccer program,” says Cohen, “not just because of how they play, but also because of their level of character or their academic interests.”
Nunez says in Spain, being an athlete and a student was a challenge, which was why studying here appealed to her.
“It was really difficult to be valued as a soccer player and be a student and be an athlete at the same time,” she says, “I wanted to grow as a soccer player here, and I feel that we are way more supported. We are treated as athletes.”
Cohen says that international athletes on all of Southern’s teams have made the university better.
“[International athletes] have added so much to the culture of our program and I think to the university as well. They’ve made us better,” Cohen says, “They’ve made us more diverse. They’ve really added to the fabric of the community at Southern.”