Posted: October 29, 2017 at 7:46 pm

By Joel Norman, Neel Madhavan and Ben Murray

WVU golfer Philipp Matlari’s journey from Germany to Morgantown

When Rylee Foster first came to the United States from Canada to play goalkeeper for the West Virginia University women’s soccer team, she fully expected to have to adjust to some cultural differences.

But, since she was already fluent in English, she didn’t expect to have to adjust to a language barrier. However, she encountered a number of differences in colloquialisms and slang.

“It’s definitely culturally different when it comes to the way people talk or how I say things,” Foster said. “For example, I say ‘pardon’ a lot. Everyone’s always pushed aside by that. Or even just the politeness that Canadians bring back here.”

From Canada to Malaysia, WVU student-athletes, like Foster, come from across the globe to participate in collegiate athletics.

On WVU’s 17 varsity sports teams, there are a total of 58 student-athletes that are from another country. The most diverse teams are women’s soccer with nine foreign athletes, women’s swimming/diving with eight foreign athletes and men’s soccer with seven foreign athletes.

Adjusting to a new country can be difficult for any international student-athlete, so there’s usually an adjustment period that comes when they first arrive on campus.

“Academic-wise, obviously I learned my school all in French, so coming here I had to switch to another language,” said WVU women’s soccer defender Bianca St. Georges. “I had to do everything in English. So that was a huge culture shock. I’d say you can’t really prepare for being a student athlete before that because the school-load and soccer-load is not comparable from high school to college.”

Adjusting to balancing college soccer with classes was tough for St. Georges. Her first year was difficult trying to manage her time such that she could get everything that she needed done.

“It’s all about balance,” she said. “The first year was really rough because I really had to try to find my balance, and I had to set up my priorities, too, so you can’t just have 10 hours of sleep every night. You have to realize that if seven or eight is enough for you, stick with that and take those extra hours to put your studying in, and then you need some time off, so you have to play with different styles and see which one works the best for you.”

St. Georges managed to find that balance, and since then, has been a mainstay on the Academic All-Big 12 Conference teams.

According to Dr. Dayna Charbonneau, the sport psychologist for the WVU athletic department, some of the common concerns that she sees from international student-athletes include adjustment/transition concerns, language barriers, additional travel concerns, other cultural concerns (like not being used to American food, customs, etc), new sport culture and expectations and being away from primary support system.

“Some concerns may be similar to domestic students, but also unique in terms of adjusting to a new country on top of traditional college adjustment concerns,” Charbonneau said. “Each individual has a different experience, though.”

International students are at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting because they have to market themselves to coaches and schools, since most schools don’t have a recruiting budget that allows them to travel overseas to find foreign talent.

That’s where innovations in communication and technology come in. It is common practice for athletes from other countries to record videos of themselves competing, upload them to YouTube and send the links to those videos to many college coaches.

“There’s definitely different steps you have to take with international kids,” WVU women’s soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “It’s not as easy, but I will tell you with FaceTime and all this technology, I’m so much better off than I was 10-15 years ago.”

Over the past decade, the WVU women’s soccer team has become a recruiting destination for Canadian soccer talent.

  • Currently, WVU has five players that hail from Canada on its 26-player roster.
    • Senior midfielder Carla Portillo
    • Senior defender Amandine Pierre-Louis
    • Junior defender Easther Mayi Kith
    • Junior defender Bianca St. Georges
    • Sophomore goalkeeper Rylee Foster

Head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown says that the Canadian pipeline to WVU began in 2005 with:

  • Robin Rushton (2005-2008)
  • Amanda Cicchini (2005-2008)
  • Deana Everett (2005-2008)

“I was at a tournament, and I saw this Canadian team play, and did some more research, and then went up to their training center and just started working with one of their coaches up there, the development coaches,” Izzo-Brown said. “What the coach was doing in the training center fit in really well with what we were trying to do here.”

However, Canada isn’t the only nationality represented on WVU’s roster.

  • New Zealand
    • Freshman midfielder Issy Coombes
  • Spain
    • Freshman forward/midfielder Stefany Ferrer-Vanginkel
  • United Kingdom
    • Freshman defender/forward Lois Joel
    • Freshman defender Grace Smith
  • Mexico
    • Junior defender Vanessa Flores (Born in U.S., plays for Mexican National Team)