117 Overcoming possible adversities of being a student-athlete and international student at the same time.

Richard Wohl and Gabriel Torres

America is the leading country in collegiate sports, for decades now America has had well established athletic associations that serve as pipelines to the major leagues. Since collegiate sports are still in an embryonic stage in most other countries, many foreign athletes that have the ambition of entering the world of professional sports seek opportunities to come to America as student-athletes hoping to one day go pro. There are also those who use sports as a way of furthering their academic career, and not the other way around. Regardless of what their end goal is when they come to America, international-students athletes are all over the country playing in all athletic associations, divisions, and conferences, and they make up for a distinctive group of people. According to the NCAA website, there are over 20,000 international student-athletes enrolled and competing at NCAA institutions.

Being a student-athlete can be very challenging, therefore it is not rare to hear stories of great athletes that flunked out of college because they could not keep up with the workload. The challenges faced by student-athletes are also faced by international student-athletes, but at times these challenges may seem even more difficult due to language barrier and cultural shock. It takes a considerable amount of focus, diligence, and organization to be a student-athlete, and one may have to dedicate extra time to learn the language and get acquainted to the local culture. With this in mind, this project hopes to cast some light on this topic and also help people that are part of this small (21 students, according to the UPike Athletics website), but important demographic of our campus.

In order to do this article, we have interviewed four people: Aaron Aven, from England, Andres Miranda from El Salvador, Fernando Proano from Ecuador, Georgia Sideri from Greece and Coach Shane Sayler from the Men’s soccer program. All interviews were conducted through text message and the 4 most helpful will be transcribed below.

Interview with Aaron Aven

Question: What are 3 things that every international student-athlete should know about UPike?

Answer: The culture in Pikeville is most likely very different to your home town, so take time to educate yourself on the culture. Everyone is super friendly at school so you shouldn’t have any issues fitting in because there is endless help from the international department, your coaches, student success, etc. UPike can be a springboard for professional athletics even though we aren’t an NCAA school. We still have great programs.

Question: What are the academic expectations for international student-athletes?

Answer: We are students before athletes, so we need to make sure we take care of our school work first and foremost before sports. Failing out of school is bad for anyone, but it can have even greater implications for us who are foreigners.

Question: What tips can you give to international student-athletes?

Answer: Get a good schedule/planer because if you try to remember all of your assignments/tasks/practices, you will be lost!

Interview with Fernando Proano

Question: What things did you do that helped you overcome the language barrier?

Answer: First of all I overcame the language barrier just by having confidence, speaking in a language that is not your own can be daunting, but you can only improve if you allow yourself to make mistakes. Also, the faster we do this, the faster you will be able to communicate clearly with coaches and teammates.

Question: How do you conciliate being an athlete and an international student?

Answer: Obviously being an international student has a lot of limitations, you have to keep your grades up and still perform well as an athlete to keep your visa status and scholarship. It may seem a lot to juggle but creating an effective routine helps.

Question: What things every international student student-athlete should know about UPike?

Answer: I think that an international student-athlete has to know his rights and obligations, and remember to use the resources that UPike has.

Interview with Coach Shane Sayler

Question: What are some expectations coaches have for international student- athletes?

Answer: Most coaches I think have an expectation that international students will have more of a drive to succeed both in the classroom and on the field.

Question: In what ways do you think coaches can help international student-athletes feel “at home?”

Answer: One of the things I try to do is get to know the players. Ask about them, find out what they miss, what they are excited about doing/seeing while being in the United States. Asking about their favorite foods from back home. I try to show genuine interest in the player and the country they are from. I like hearing about soccer clubs from back home that they support.

Question: What do you think can help international student-athletes overcome the language barrier and become proficient in English?

Answer: The biggest thing I see and I think will help, I understand that it’s easy and more comfortable being around people who speak the same language. But most coaches in the US only speak English and know bits and phrases of Spanish. I would encourage my English Speaking players to involve the international students in everything. Sit with them at lunch, partner up in class, but would also ask the international students to go outside their comfort zone and engage with the English speaking students. Not just trying to speak English, but teach them some phrases in their native language.

Interview with Georgia Sideri

Question: What things did you do that helped you overcome the language barrier?

Answer: When I first came to the U.S., I was nervous to start a conversation or order food by myself because I was afraid that they wouldn’t understand because of my accent. I used to translate everything from Greek to English and vice versa, but that wouldn’t be accurate most of the time. I started to watch a lot of movies in English with English subtitles and that actually helped a lot. I would try to speak English with my sister and not Greek. Also, just took me a month of being in the U.S. to overcome the language barrier, because I was basically forced to speak in English all the time because there were no Greeks in school.

Question: How do you conciliate being an athlete and an international student?

Answer: My freshman year was a bit challenging because things here are quite different from Greece, including basketball and classes. However, I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met over the years because every time I had a question or a concern, they would always be helpful, and that corresponds to my experience at UPike as well.

Question: What things every international student-athlete should know about UPike?

Answer: They should know about the things that they have to have in order to be eligible to play and also be in the United States as an international student-athlete. A lot of documents are required and everything needs to be up-to-date. They have to have an active relationship with the international office and their coaches as well. Lastly, there are a lot of international students – athletes at UPike and you can always count on them.

Conclusions taken from the interviews:

What we can take as a conclusion from the interviews that we did, is that every international student – athlete – knows that Pikeville is way different than their hometown, so they know that whenever they get here they have to get used to it. We all know that it can be frustrating and hard to deal with a language that is not yours, but everybody has to try because you learn from mistakes. Another thing that we can take from the interviews is that the international students – athletes say that people at UPike are going to help you, coaches, students, teammates, office, etc.



“International Student-Athletes.” NCAA,

  • Rpowell. (2020, September 02). International Student-Athletes. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/inclusion/international-student-athletes
  • Facts & Statistics – U.S. Sports Scholarships: Aussie Athletes Agency. (2017, January 24). Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.athletesagency.com.au/us-college-facts-statistics
  • Noriega, E. (2018, May 08). Wish I knew then: International student-athletes face unique challenges. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://globalsportmatters.com/culture/2018/05/08/international-student-athletes-unique-challenges/