Life as an international student-athlete

I disliked Chick-fil-A sauce the first time I tried it. I had only been in the United States for an hour, and the sweetness of it was too much for me. The August heat was also too much. I had left the drizzly U.K. in a thick tracksuit and was instantly regretting it.  

Hit by the altitude, I hauled my suitcase through Denver International Airport and was greeted warmly by a teammate from the women’s soccer program. We hopped in a massive truck and began driving south toward Colorado Springs; my American dream had officially begun. 

I was struck by the vast landscape of the Rocky Mountains and the clear blue sky that now greets me each morning during the summer. My first few days were dream-like. This is what I had been imagining since I penned my signature on the national letter of intent the November prior. However, the surrealness of this culture shock was overwhelming. 

After a few days, I began to miss home and the smallness of the village that I came from. 

Rising Senior Fie Steenberg also said that she experienced a massive culture shock once she moved to the U.S. Steenberg is from Odense, Denmark. She is an international business major and a captain on the women’s soccer program.  

“Everything is so far away here; you need a car to have independence. Also, the school system is different; I had no idea what classes to take. I feel like I was misled because I took some classes that I did not need to take. This made me behind with school for a while,”  Steenberg said.  

Apart from calling it football instead of soccer, Steenberg and I were also shocked by the difference in the U.S.’ approach to the beautiful game.  

“European soccer is a lot different in terms of style of play. The understanding of the game is really different. So, in my first year, that took me a while to adjust to. Also, we normally play two games a week in the fall which is very intense and not normal in Europe. Then it is also weird when you hardly play any games in the spring,” Steenberg said. 

However, Steenberg seems to appreciate some of these differences. “I think that the setup is pretty professional and I love to fly to play matches,” Steenberg said. 

When asked what advice she would give international student-athletes moving to UCCS, Steenberg didn’t hesitate to say that connections and the Colorado altitude are important to note. 

“The altitude is something that international athletes need to be aware of.{You should} get in touch with roommates before you move and meet with your academic advisor as soon as possible so you are on the right track from the start,” Steenberg said. 

As well as cultural changes in athletics and academics, international student-athletes also have to manage other challenges.  

Rising junior Matteo Moreno Madrid is from Brussels, Belgium. He is a mechanical engineering major and was part of the men’s soccer program.  

“I think that the most difficult thing about being an international student-athlete is the language barrier. When I first came here, my English was not great, so it was a bit difficult at first. However, my English quickly improved because I was surrounded by English speakers all the time,” Moreno Madrid said. 

This spring, Moreno Madrid made the decision to transfer “I want to try something new and see other parts of the country. I only have two years of eligibility left, so I want to experience other states before going back home,” Moreno Madrid said.  

While Steenberg, Moreno Madrid and I have learned to embrace our new lives in the United States, we still enjoy going back home during the winter and summer breaks.  

“I love to go home because it makes you realize that you live two different lives and that you enjoy both of them,” Steenberg said. 

Ultimately, I think that this is the best part of being an international student-athlete. I can call it football and soccer. I can live in the mountains and then return to the flat fields of England. I can eat Chick-fil-A and fish and chips. I can watch Ted Lasso from an American and English perspective.  

Becoming an international student-athlete opens a whole new door for you while not shutting the door that you left. As Steenberg says, living between two countries for four years really does give you the best of both worlds.

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