No Longer Foreign: International Student-Athletes Overcome Cultural Differences To Find A Home At Goucher

No Longer Foreign: International Student-Athletes Overcome Cultural Differences To Find A Home At Goucher

By: Lizzie Casa (Athletic Communications Student Assistant)

The transition from high school to college is a jarring one, but imagine going to a whole new country to make this change in your life. This is the case for the following three student-athletes at Goucher College, who left their country to pursue not only academics but also athletics.

Michael Herman hails from Prague, Czech Republic and plays tennis for Goucher. Roberto Mikse comes from Mexico City, Mexico, is a player for the men's golf team. Neli La Court Ruiz comes from Puerto Rico and not only plays volleyball for Goucher but also joined the track and field team in her sophomore campaign. When they arrived in America, these student-athletes took on the challenge and made the best of the obstacles they faced. For Herman and Mikse they led their respective teams to three-straight Landmark Conference championships and appearances in the NCAA Division III Championships.

Herman, who graduated in May, came from the Czech Republic and heard about Goucher from a family friend who works in the admissions office. This put Goucher on his radar and Herman was sure that he wanted to pursue tennis in college.

Herman, who is an international student that also has some family that lives in the states, explained that there are quite a few differences between playing tennis in the Czech Republic versus the United States.

"The most notable difference is that in the United States the tennis teams have a lot more team pride and loyalty than in Czech," said Herman. "Athletes typically play for clubs versus their schools in the Czech and it is much more common to switch between club teams than it is in the United States."

Like most college students, independence was a big hurdle for the tennis player.

"Culture shock was not huge because obviously, half my family is American, but the language was a little bit of a shock because I didn't know the slang words," said Herman. "That was a little bit of a difference, but really the biggest adjustment for me was being on my own,"

Mikse found Goucher when Men's Golf Head Coach Hunter Brown recruited him after an impressive performance during a tournament in Las Vegas. Mikse began playing golf when he was young as his primary means of spending time with his father who traveled frequently for work. He saw potential in the Goucher team and decided to commit to Goucher's inaugural men's golf team.

Mikse decided to go to a college with a new program because he knew that he would have many opportunities. When asked about the cultural difference in playing golf in the United States and Mexico, Mikse explained that the sport had lost most of its traction, but "about six years ago, golf began to get more strength in Mexico."

For Mikse, there were many trials when it came to leaving Mexico and adjusting to culture in the states.

"The first months were rough, culturally," said Mikse. "I knew English, but it was still a big change for me. People couldn't really understand me even though I could understand them."

The Mexico-raised golfer took comfort in the friendships he has cultivated with his teammates at Goucher. Mikse says that they are a brotherhood and they are his best friends. Additionally, he states "it helps to have other international students, specifically Latino students, on the team."

He feels that he can offer support to the younger international golfers, and they can all help each other communicate with English speakers.

La Court Ruiz was attracted to Goucher because of the small class sizes and the relationships that she could build with her professors.

The newly-minted, dual-sport athlete arrived in America five years ago on a one-way ticket to meet her father, who lives in York, Pennsylvania. She struggled with the culture shock as she arrived in the dead of winter. The hardest part was that she could not spend her time outside practicing or playing with friends. La Court Ruiz began playing volleyball for her high school team knowing little to no English. Her teacher and "American Mom" would accompany her to matches so that La Court Ruiz could understand commands and coaching. Through this process, she learned some of her English.

While playing, La Court Ruiz quickly discovered that the culture in America is "focused on self" and the culture in Puerto Rico is "more focused on community and family, which was hard to adjust to," she explained.

This contrast translates into the excitement that La Court Ruiz noticed in her fellow volleyball players. 

"Mostly in high school, it's that passion and everyone who played was so passionate about the sport," said La Court Ruiz. "Here, people just played the sport because they could. I was the outcast, it was more like I was the only one who seemed so passionate about this."

Though the transition was hard, La Court Ruiz, along with Herman and Miske, have made the most of their move to America and their time at Goucher. The tennis, golf, volleyball and track and field teams would not be the same without these three athletes. The obstacles they faced when moving to a new country helped prepare them for the challenges that any college student-athlete faces and made them stronger along the way.

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