“America has been an adventure” International athletes find home on campus

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While the transition from high school to college athletics can be difficult for many, some student-athletes at Oklahoma Christian University must adjust to a new culture and country in addition to learning the “American version” of their sport when they move to college. For the Oklahoma Christian Athletic Department, 15 student-athletes, representing five continents, faced this challenge when they arrived on campus.

Freshman basketball player Ivor Baric from Zagreb, Croatia, heard about Oklahoma Christian after attending Cape Fear Christian Academy his senior year of high school.

“My OC story did not begin in Croatia, but in North Carolina,” Baric said. “From there, I was playing in America and getting exposure to American recruits. I got into contact with Coach Hankins, who introduced me to Coach Cole. I liked him and we just got on the same page.”

Baric said he would describe his move to America as a difficult one, as he tried to get used to the differences in food and culture.

“I like to say that America is a planet in and of itself,” Baric said. “I have been all over Europe. I have been to almost every continent, and while you see slightly different cultures everywhere, America is just different. I am used to walking around the city, where all the buildings were built in the 15th century, but in America, every city I have been to is just based on skyscrapers. Here, you have a fast food restaurant on every corner, while back at home, you struggle to find a McDonalds or any kind of fast food chain.”

Since basketball in Croatia is in the European style, Baric said he needed to transition into the American version of the sport.

“Back home, it is way more of pass the ball around and play some sets, while here, it is more of a run-and-gun play,” Baric said. “Both have their own advantages, but I am used to playing back at home so I prefer the European way. Here, everyone is always yelling and pumped up, while back at home, I feel like people are calmer. Everyone is hyped up because it is a game and it is competitive, but I feel like it is classier than it is here.”

For freshman Ida Nielson, from Velley, Denmark, her first time in America was when she came to Oklahoma Christian to play soccer.

“I decided my senior year of high school that I wanted to go to the States, but I did not really know where,” Nielson said. “So, I contacted an agency that helps European students go to America on scholarship and since they had a lot of good contacts, they sent my information out to a lot of different schools and I had a couple call me back. I chose OC because it just seemed interesting.”

Nielson said one of her biggest challenges of attending college in America was that English is not her first language.

“The whole transition of thinking in Danish and then thinking in English took a lot of time to get use to,” Nielson said. “We were on the soccer field five hours every day so it was hard for the first two weeks, going to class, trying to understand what the teacher was saying and learning what to say to my teammates when I wanted them to pass me the ball. I just found it hard to do studies in another language, while also being gone sometimes for three days during the week.”

Like Nielson, freshman soccer player Jen Atherton from Bristol, England, heard about Oklahoma Christian through an agency who, Atherton said, had lots of contacts and marketed her to college coaches.

“We had a showcase day last December and Coach Robinson came across and watched me,” Atherton said. “He gave me a good offer and I liked him as a person so I decided to come here.”

Atherton had visited America twice before she moved to Oklahoma Christian. She said her family went on vacation to Florida before she went to college.

“Then, my dad came to OC to drop me off and I stayed with our captain, Amanda Cooper, for a week before preseason,” Atherton said. “She took me on my first Walmart experience. So that transition was a pretty easy one, but coming back from Christmas break was hard because I had to fly back from England on my own and I am a bit clumsy with flying so it was quite the experience.”

Atherton said while she speaks the same language and sees lots of similarities, there are cultural differences between England and America she did not expect.

“Being at a Christian school has been different, because religion is a lot bigger here than it is back home,” Atherton said. “Concerning futbol, they call a lot more fouls here and the sport is just not as big. Back home, it’s like everything. I miss keeping up to date with the professional league and I had season tickets for my local team, whereas here, I do not really watch any of the games because they’re not as televised.”

Although she said she did not miss home last fall, Atherton said she has been more homesick this semester.

“I love adventures, though, and I have traveled a lot so this is not my first trip out of the country or anything,” Atherton said. “Moving to America has been a pretty good adventure and I always want to try new stuff so I am glad I decided to come here.”

Freshman soccer player Anthony Wittenberg from West Pymble, Australia, heard about Oklahoma Christian through his sister, who lives in Edmond.

“Living in America is fantastic so far,” Wittenberg said. “The whole aspect of college schooling and living here is a completely different dynamic than university back home, but the people here in Oklahoma are lovely and some of the nicest people you will ever meet.”

Wittenberg said he plans to return home for the first time in June.

“Being away from family has been difficult and I am not able to see my mates each weekend,” Wittenberg said. “And I miss the beach. In Sydney, there are no shortage of beaches.”

Oklahoma Christian’s athletic department will gain another Aussie next fall, when Wittenberg’s sister, Felicity, who signed in November, will join the Lady Eagle golf team.

“I am so happy she has the chance to attend OC and do what she loves,” Wittenberg said. “It will be fantastic for both of us and I know she will do great things.”

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