Crossing Borders, Testing Boundaries

[1]When Rob Huber hears what his grandmother went through, he can’t help but think, “that could’ve been me.” Huber was practically raised by his grandmother, a Japanese immigrant who had dropped out of a prestigious Japanese university, immigrated to the United States with her husband (who eventually left her) and tried to make a living by assimilating to American culture. With his grandmother moving into his family’s house when he was in grade school, Huber described the menial tasks his grandmother had to perform to support her family of four children.
Because his grandmother’s story and the issue of immigration has hit so close to home lately, the international relations and Asian studies senior has become extremely interested in immigration rights and migration issues. He said he sees his grandmother’s plight as similar to what many Latinos must face today once they enter the country.
While Huber, who plans to pursue a career in immigration law, is not the only one taking interest in the issue of immigration, it has become a rather hot topic most recently because of pending legislation in the Senate that would have serious effects on American immigration policy. Looking at both national and local levels, it becomes easy to see that the issue should concern more than just the people trying to cross U.S. borders. [deflast]
The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act is a bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), that if passed after Congress reconvenes from its Easter break, would allow many of 11 million existing illegal immigrants to eventually pursue legal citizenship, provide guest-worker visas, ensure increased employer accountability and enhance border patrol.
Although immigration does not solely affect one demographic, pending legislation would undoubtedly resonate most with the Chicano/Latino community. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, figures illustrate the profound impact of the bill on the Latino community with 57 percent of the more than 10.3 million estimated illegal immigrants coming from Mexico and 24 percent from elsewhere in Latin America.
Psychology senior Raquel Moreno, who is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, said she thinks the bill focuses on the negative aspects of immigration without looking at the positives. Moreno explained that because of the corruption in the Mexican government and lack of opportunities in the country, people come over here to look for a better life, doing jobs that most Americans would not do. If immigrants were not willing to do the work that offers them a way to make a reasonable living, Moreno said, there would be negative economic impacts. “The economy would collapse,” Moreno said, adding that without immigrants working low-wage jobs Americans take for granted, their daily lifestyles would be severely affected.
Moreno, who has participated in rallies and marches dealing with the issue will join the May 1 rally/march from Foster Park to the Capitol steps that will symbolize, “A Day Without Immigrants” where participants will wear all white to show solidarity and not participate in the daily tasks that allow Americans to take immigrants’ economic contributions for granted. \”A Day Without Immigrants\” is a national campaign, and its effects will present themselves later, when the country can reflect on how much the presence of immigrants was missed.
[rallypic]Similar protests and rallies throughout the country have been held to support immigrant rights and to rally around better treatment toward our country’s immigrants. Critics do not feel that immigrants, specifically illegal immigrants, necessitate any \’favorable\’ treatment.
Huber believes this is because immigrants present an affront to the American identity to those who want to keep them out, which parallels the racist exclusionary acts of years past. “If you can’t relate what is happening now to then (Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment), which is almost identical,” Huber said, “you have to wonder, is there any learning from the historical past?”
However, that is precisely the concern for some adamant anti-immigration groups, who often incorporate the acts of 9/11 and security concerns into the rhetoric for strict border control and enforcement of illegal immigration. Connie Hair, spokeswoman for California-based border patrol group Minutemen denounces the idea of granting those who enter the country illegally a path to citizenship. “We do not support amnesty,” Hair said. “We support securing our borders. Our stance is to secure the borders. Now. Immediately.” Hair cites the lack of enforcement of our borders as a source of vulnerability for terrorists to enter the country.
For those who are actively involved in the border patrol for the Minutemen, such as Clark (who wished to not disclose his last name), a 73-yr. old volunteer from a suburb of Phoenix, the threat of terrorism is of primary concern for the country’s safety. “We don’t know who’s coming out and for what reasons,” he said. “We have people coming from El Salvador, coming from the MS-13 -they’re some of the most evil people out there. When I was out at the border, I found a Quran. I don’t think many Mexicans read the Quran.” Clark is referring to Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadoran street gang that is known to be very dangerous and on the streets of American cities like Los Angeles.
But not all arguments for or against immigrants entering the country are so extreme. In fact, immigration reform seems to be one of the issues that transcends party lines. Immigration attorneys Daniel C. Learned and Catherine L. Ruster, said the entire spectrum agrees that the system is broken. Both Learned and Ruster have practiced other types of law in the past (trial law and corporate law, respectively) and agree that reform is needed for such a complex issue. Learned said he was always interested in international affairs, and Ruster, an immigrant herself who came from the UK when she was 8, said she became interested in the niche practice, and for both their work has been rewarding, although not without challenges.
While Ruster explained the lack of intuition and difficulty in learning all the nuances of immigration law, Learned joked that while “many think it is a quick and easy way to riches, I can testify that it’s neither.” But the payoff for their hard work does not go unnoticed. “Immigration clients are always the most appreciative,” Ruster said. “It is important for people to stay here. It’s more important than just their work. It’s their whole life.”
Learned agreed and added that the benefits of immigration to the United States and to their practice is that it “enables us to attract the best and brightest,” he said. “The opportunities are wide open. It’s true that the American dream is alive and well.” Ruster and Learned explained that the bill currently before Senate offers an important shift from the illegality of immigration to the legality of the issue.[2]
International relations senior Melanie Glover believes this is one of the positive effects of the pending immigration reform. Glover has worked with immigration lawyers, immigrant families, illegal immigrants in the workplace and NGOs in Spain that deal with refugee and immigration issues, has volunteered with and mentored a Grand Rapids Somali-Bantu family for the past two years, and she said she supports some type of system that would allow immigrants to come here legally and be afforded more rights. Glover said there are certain aspects of the current system she finds to be problematic. “What I don’t like about the illegal aspect is that its dangerous,” she said. “[Immigrants] are treated poorly at work and don’t have rights, and they don’t have social services or social benefits.”
Besides the inherent racism Glover said she feels is responsible for much of the anti-immigration sentiment, she also believes the common misperception that immigrants are here to take United States citizens’ jobs is to blame. However, most informed individuals are aware that the argument lacks substance. “They are doing the jobs that Americans would not even think of doing,” Glover said.
[quote]Jeff Wiggins, a member of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom and future chairman of College Republicans, dispels the notion that all right-wingers or conservatives are against immigration. “People think we’re against immigration, which is not true.,” he said. “We are for immigration. We need immigration. We just need it legally.” Wiggins said he agrees that something does need to be done to fix the current policies on immigration. “Reform is needed,” he said. “[There are] too many loopholes, too much turning of heads.” In regards to the proposed bill that would allow those who came here illegally to eventually obtain citizenship, Wiggins said, “It’s discrediting the system. It’s almost encouraging people to break the law.”
Susan Wysocki, spokesperson of the national non-profit organization FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by MSU alumnus John Tanton, agrees that this bill would send the wrong message. “It’s rewarding people that are breaking a law with citizenship,” she said. “It’s insulting people who are trying to do it legally. No matter how you sugar-coat it, it’s still amnesty.”
The pending legislation has spurred a nation-wide debate on an issue that is sure to affect the country for years to come, with an estimated 4,000 immigrants entering the United States every day. While it may be remarkable that both sides of the political spectrum can agree that our current system of immigration policy is badly broken and needs to be fixed, the great debate will undoubtedly continue.
Meanwhile, like the legislation, the human side of this issue – the fates of millions of working illegal immigrants and their families – are also in limbo.

Posted in Global ViewComments (0)

Nothing Corporate

[hewitt] Yvonne Wood fears working 9-to-5 every day in corporate America more than squat toilets in Latin America.
Next January, the environmental studies and applications senior and her fiancée, international relations senior Andrew Hewitt, will be heading off through the Peace Corps to a rural Latin American community where they will help with agricultural development.
Although the two agreed they would have gotten married this summer regardless of their plans for the Peace Corps, they explained that the opportunity the Peace Corps provides in placing married couples together made it a much more “rational decision” for them to plan their wedding this June. “It’s easier to explain it to other people,” said Wood, adding that it is also “easier to justify to your parents.” Hewitt agreed, joking that while he thought his dad might be hesitant, he was the one who started filling out the applications. While they met during an MSU study abroad program in Thailand, the couple said their two-year assignment with the Peace Corps will not only provide Wood with the opportunity to reconnect with her Latin American heritage (her mother is Colombian), but also for the two of them to try something new, travel with one another, give back to rural communities and gain new perspectives. [quotess1]
So what do students find appealing about giving up luxuries and giving back? Why are many graduating students at MSU, like Wood and Hewitt, opting for alternative paths as opposed to entering the corporate world of cubicles and expense reports? Is there a method to this post-graduation madness, or are kids simply avoiding adulthood altogether? MSU seniors are continuously faced with these questions as graduation rolls around and the real world stares them in the face.
Dr. Phil Gardner, director of the MSU Collegiate Employment Research Institute, explains that this phenomenon of students opting for alternative post-graduation experiences is not that uncommon given the current economic situation, but there are other pressing concerns for students as well. While Gardner explains that there has been evidence to suggest a recent surge in numbers for Peace Corps and related volunteer/work opportunities, such as Teach For America, Americorps or teaching English abroad, as a result of the lack of job opportunities in a stagnant economy, he also believes there is a generational difference in the amount of responsibilities they have and the priorities they consider when looking for a job. Gardner said he recognizes a marked difference in post-graduation attitude with the recent generation of college students. Speaking about his generation, Gardner says, “We were expected to grow up a lot earlier and accept more responsibilities…[now] once you defer to college, you don’t have to grow up as fast.”
Gardner says students are now trying to figure out why they’re in college. “They graduate, get out there; they haven’t really found out who they are and they’re willing to take on different things,” said Gardner. “They think, ‘OK, I’ve got my degree, now I’m going to take some time to myself.’” Although there is a large variety of graduating students, the type of kids that look toward these experiences, according to Gardner, are those who look for interesting work and a way to make a difference. When asked whether he feels service-learning experiences are beneficial to students, Gardner says, “I think they’re great experiences if they [students] do the reflection along with them.”
The lack of opportunity in the labor market is another main reason for college graduates not jumping into their careers. According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, as of January, the unemployment rate was at a staggering 6.2 percent, compared with that of the national economy, which was 4.8 percent as of February. This has severely affected job availability for recent graduates, but that isn’t the only reason that students are choosing not to jump onto the rungs of the corporate ladder.
Lexi Hansen, MSU Peace Corps representative and Peace Corps alum, also believes it is the goal to make some significant change somewhere in the world that motivates many students to take advantage of alternative opportunities. Although the type of students she encounters who are interested in the Peace Corps run the full spectrum, Hansen has found that one important priority to many is that they want to make the world a better place. Along with the chance to make a difference, Hansen has found that independence and the opportunity for growth have been important to students as well.
For international relations senior Lauren Germaine, her interest in the Chinese language and Southeast Asian culture has prompted her to look down other avenues, rather than the oft-followed law school path. Although Germaine has applied for a number of programs, including law school, the Peace Corps and consulting and public relations jobs in the U.S., she is seriously considering a move to China to pursue work and develop a mastery of the language. Germaine, who has been taking Chinese since the sixth grade and is only one class short of having a double major in Chinese, has studied abroad in China with MSU and plans to go back this summer, if not semi-permanently. Besides her interest in the Chinese people and culture, Germaine is wary of forking out tons of money to enter into law school or graduate school without a definite idea of what she wants to do, and she sees working in China as a possible financial advantage. She explains the willingness of many companies to finance further education and how this could help her down the line.
When asked what she hopes to gain from the experience she said, “more insight as to what I want to do in the long run…more opportunities financially and educationally.” Germaine figures this is a popular rationale for her peers who face graduation with less than a perfectly clear vision of what they want in the future. “I think a lot of people choose alternatives because they aren’t sure what they want to do…it gives them more time and also a break from school.”
However, Gardner also concedes that not all companies are in favor of this time off. Hansen also has experience with this concern that “giving up” time to do more off-the-beaten-path activities will set a student back in the career search. In response, she tells students about how she was competing with people that had 5-10 years of experience and advanced degrees when she got back from her service. Similarly, when a student comes to Gardner for advice or guidance about alternative post-graduation plans, Gardner helps to put things in perspective about what they hope to accomplish by asking students what they really value; what their strengths, weaknesses and interests are; and helps to provide direction from there. [fromthere]
Ayanna Wheeler, an MSU alumna, has been taking a break from college, but not school completely. Wheeler has been substitute teaching since graduating with a degree in journalism and will be entering a classroom again in the fall as a teacher. Her decision to enter the Teach For America 2006 Corps was made in an MSU history class where a recruiter came and spoke. After attending the CNN screening, she fell in love with the program and, after submitting an application, was accepted as a Campus Campaign Manager for MSU. Wheeler said holding the position has not only made her realize how many kids have been left behind in the education system, but has also equipped her with improved time management and the organizational skills necessary to prepare for her future position as an elementary teacher in Chicago.
Although Wheeler said people join Teach for America for many different reasons, she has noticed one common thread of passion. Wheeler, who plans on covering education as a reporter in the future, said once people learn about the program, they are angry because of what she thinks is a sense of heightened awareness students experience in college. “Coming to college you begin to learn different issues,” Wheeler said, adding that people “want to become part of the program so they can change things. They want to give back.” Wheeler herself, although she admits she might be nervous at first, is excited to shape the minds of young students and change kids’ lives by getting into the classrooms. Her goal? “To help kids enjoy learning and to believe in themselves. I’m looking forward to kids saying ‘I can’ and not only ‘I can,’ but ‘I will.’”
So with a stagnant economy and labor force compounded with more and more graduating students’ search for identity, passion for social justice and sense of adventure, maybe fewer and fewer will contemplate signing bonuses and trendy urban lofts, and instead begin thinking of living in straw huts or teaching underprivileged kids as an option when asked, “What’s next?” [woodhewitt]
For Wood and Hewitt, who plan on attending graduate school and law school, respectively, the path ahead is filled with adventure and opportunity. While the pair does have some trivial concerns (Wood admits she is scared of spiders, and Hewitt muses that he will miss filling out a bracket for two years of March Madness) they are both confident that they will return with a fresh perspective about the world and experience under their belt for their future endeavors.
And although some are in awe that they would willingly “give up” two years of their lives, Hewitt said he is hardly giving up anything. He said if there was anything he could choose to do, it would be to travel with Wood, which the Peace Corps allows him to do.
Regardless of material things the pair will be forced to give up during their stay, Wood says the compromise will be worthwhile and that she sees this as an opportunity to “share a life experience and have the support that, going into it as an individual, you just don’t have. It will give us a great perspective for the rest of our lives. What you get from it will outweigh any sacrifice.”

Posted in Global ViewComments (0)

Sunscreen, Shots and Common Sense

[shore] For Maren Neely, the opportunity to go to Mexico with a bunch of friends isn’t one that comes along too often. Neither does the chance to stay for relatively cheap.
Neely, who will be staying at a friend’s parents’ condo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during spring break, is not exactly a rookie traveler. The 22-year-old spent last summer traveling throughout Europe and has visited many other places such as the Bahamas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Aruba and London. Because of her previous travel experience, Neely isn’t too concerned with traveling out of the country for the week, but she will be taking certain precautions.
With spring break around the corner, many MSU students have visions of tropical locations and swim-up bars in their heads, anticipating their last mid-term before getting to go somewhere with friends to let loose. Unfortunately, since many students go to unfamiliar places where tourists are targeted and tend to lose some inhibitions, many do not realize the safety concerns presented when traveling abroad and how easily they can take preventative measures to ensure that they have a good time.
Because Neely has such a good handle on how to be aware in an unfamiliar place, her parents aren’t too concerned with her going to Mexico with friends for spring break. Neely said, as far as her parents are concerned, “It’s my money, my decision.”
For second-year telecommunications graduate student Micah Bushouse, it wasn’t his money, but his parents’ money that factored into his decision to go to Cancun, Mexico. “My parents are paying for it, so they gave me a list of places I could go,” said Bushouse who chose Cancun because he said it seemed like the best option on the list. Bushouse, who has been keeping track of happenings in Cancun such as Hurricane Wilma’s destruction and local crime, is only really concerned with one safety risk-the water.
“You try to only drink beer,” Bushouse joked. “Stay away from the water. I will have no problem drinking beer only…that’s usually not too hard for me.” While Bushouse said his parents aren’t too worried about his drinking, he said, “It’ll be interesting what they say to my sister (who is a 19-yr old CMU student), because they still think she’s a little angel.”
But not all students leaving the country for spring break have had as much travel experience as Neely or parents accompanying them like Bushouse, which can put these spring break students in serious danger while on vacation.
Julie Friend, a health and safety director for the Office of Study Abroad points to the general risks of students traveling abroad on break. “As a population, you [students] are not very cognizant of risks,” said Friend. “You drive too fast, [you] can drink to excess…people think the plane could crash, not that I’ll get robbed…and you’re a lot more likely to get robbed.”
According to Friend, students need to be aware of the risks they take and the people they meet during spring break. “Students need to understand in a lot of these spring break locations they are targeted by people looking for vulnerable people in those locations…the most common problem is theft,” she said.
Alcohol, Friend explained, is often a major factor in jeopardizing students’ safety. “Many times students overindulge in alcohol, which increases risk-taking behavior,” she said. “When you add overindulgence of alcohol you increase risk while on vacation in an unfamiliar environment, and culture with a foreign language. When people go on vacation they tend to let loose, they know they don’t have to get up and read 40 pages of Bio the next day. It’s easier to justify relaxing a lot more.” [quote]
Sociology junior Aris McDonald doesn’t plan on drinking at all while in Jamaica, for MSU’s Alternative Spring Break. McDonald has heard of students going to a different country, and “drinking, drinking, drinking, until they can’t drink anymore,” which is not something she plans on doing in a foreign place. Instead, McDonald is looking to get more out of her spring break than just having a good time.
When asked what the trip meant to her, McDonald, who has participated in numerous volunteer opportunities before, said she liked the feeling of going to a place she has never visited and, “giving back to my roots, and giving back to a disadvantaged community.” Since McDonald’s father is from Jamaica, she said he imparted some safety tips for the trip. “He kept giving me advice like not to travel alone, not to go out late at night, and he named the places I shouldn’t go,” she said.
McDonald will be going to Jamaica to do volunteer work including helping to build an elementary school and interacting with elementary school children. This was an issue McDonald was excited to get involved with.
Andrea Hart, an MSU graduate student in student affairs and administration and ASB advisor, said identifying issues that interest them should be the primary focus of students looking to go on an ASB trip. “Idealistically, I think it’s students’ conscious choice to learn more about the world and their place in it,” said Hart. “As a student you will go as someone who doesn’t know other participants, [it will] broaden your understanding of different cultures and instills a sense of social responsibility.”
Health provisions should also be taken before any trip abroad, according to MSU Travel Clinic employee Mary Ellen O’Doherty, who urges students to do their homework before going anywhere. Different places require different safety and health precautions, but O’Doherty explains that the clinic provides immunizations and consultations for international travelers. “We talk to them about food and water-borne illnesses and how to prevent it, traveler’s diarrhea, immunizations, tuberculosis, mosquito-borne illnesses, etc.,” said O’Doherty. The best suggestion O’Doherty has for students is to know where they’re going, do research on what they need (like going to the Center for Disease Control Web site), and to come in to the Travel Clinic at least a month prior to their trip. [staphoto]
Marketing freshman Tara Hooey was surprised at the extensive amount of information provided by the university for her freshman seminar trip to Merida, Mexico. Hooey said she was given health and safety information on about “everything you could think of” and isn’t too concerned with remaining safe on her trip. The main thing Hooey said she was concerned with was the fact that people in Mexico may prey on her because she is a woman from America. “Being a girl, they can target us as stupid, easy American girls,” said Hooey. “I just have to make sure when I go out day and night I’m with someone else.”
Eddie Lindow, branch manager of STA travel in East Lansing, believes this departure of many students from the typical Spring Break destinations (think Cancun, Bahamas, etc) is a result of people starting to expand their horizons culturally. Lindow explains that while the warm destinations still sell the most, more and more students are opting for trips to Europe and Asia. With the more obscure places to visit, many students have specific travel concerns, as well as their parents.
Lindow also assures that the travel agency always checks any place they offer to make sure they are not in a terrible part of town. Lindow also adds that STA requires travelers to have insurance and that they have a company rep in all locations that can help answer questions or if an emergency situation occurs. “We try to play to both parties,” said Lindow. “We want them to be able to party and to be safe.”

Whether spring break to you means hanging out with friends, volunteering in the community, or experiencing the local culture and sights, there are some things that every traveler should do to ensure they have a great spring break:
1)Investigate specific insurance policies-most students don’t know they are relatively cheap and cover quite a bit
2)Do your homework- read about the destination on the State Department and CDC websites
3)Realize any health precautions-If you need to get immunizations, go at least a month before so your body can develop antibodies
4)Photocopy documents-this can save you a lot of trouble and time if they get lost or stolen
5)Leave information back home-tell someone back home a loose itinerary of your plans, or you can even register with the state department
6)Don’t partake in high-risk behavior- excessive drinking, unprotected sex, drug use, and other activities put you at an increased risk of danger
7)Be alert- Always be aware of who you are with, what you are doing, and what risks are involved.
8)Have fun!

Posted in Global ViewComments (0)

The World is a Playing Field

When Ana Milosavljevic realized she wanted to play tennis at MSU, she sent Tim Bauer her highlights tape all the way from South Africa. After evaluating the tape, Bauer said he didn’t need much convincing.
Having previously coached no. 1-ranked players from all over the world, the women’s tennis team head coach said he had confidence in international recruits. When tennis team co-captain and business management sophomore Christine Bader commented on the superior work ethic of international players on the team like Milosavljevic, Bauer agreed and said that’s generally the case. [tennis]
Many other varsity teams at MSU have had international student-athletes grace their rosters as well. The baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, football, gymnastics, field hockey, ice hockey, women’s rowing, women’s soccer, women’s tennis and women’s track teams all boast at least one athlete from outside the United States. An annual report issued by the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) found that 7.4 percent of MSU students in 2004 were international, with over 650 new international students enrolled, representing 126 countries. With the university’s international reputation gaining recognition, more and more international students and athletes are selecting MSU.
Although acclimating to life in the United States may be difficult, playing collegiate level sports abroad can have major perks, such as scholarships, tougher competition, excellent training facilities and the opportunity to live in a different country and get an education all at the same time, while also having the support of a team to ease the transition. Through their personal accounts, MSU coaches and international student-athletes weigh the pros and cons of competing away from home.
Women’s field hockey members psychology freshman Geraldine Raynor, business/pre-law freshman Inge Kaars Sijpestjin and no preference sophomore Charlotte van der Laag all came to the United States for this reason. Zimbabwe native Raynor, Netherlands native Kaars Sijpestjin and Holland native van der Laag say the mentality here is different when it comes to sports, especially the attention and funding field hockey receives. [mugraynor]
Raynor, whose older brother and sister have also played sports abroad, wanted to continue playing field hockey and recognized America as a place where the sport commanded more attention. “Here [field hockey] is almost a life in itself,” she said. “Everything is a little bit more intense. You get up, go to class, go to practice…you live for hockey, you live for the game.”
Raynor’s parents supported her decision to attend MSU, even after she got in a car accident two days before her departure. She said her dad found comfort in the fact that if anything happened to her while away from home, she would have access to the best medical care in the world.
MSU\’s international student-athletes can benefit from more than just great healthcare. The OISS provides services to accommodate any international student’s needs. Ghazala Khan, an OISS employee, said the university tries to make the transition for student-athletes as smooth as possible. Khan, who coordinates the fall, spring and summer orientation programs for all international students, organizes campus tours, international student counselors, health insurance information sessions, restaurant hops and driver’s license testing.
But once all the bureaucratic red tape is clear, Khan said the hardest thing for international students to adjust to is the informality of American culture and how people interact with each other. Add in grueling practices, competitions, travel and time commitments, and one can see why an international student-athlete has even more to grapple with upon coming to MSU.
Khan and co-workers, including Nancy Radermacher, view their job as essential to building diversity on campus and making transitions easier for international students. Rademacher said the students who receive assistance are always thankful. “International students are the most appreciative,” she said. “Sometimes they will even bring me a small gift from back home to thank us for our help…they are very grateful.” In return, Rademacher, an avid sports fan, insists the international student-athletes sign the posters in her office. [cluttenquote]
Life as an international student-athlete requires dedication and discipline in all fields. While their American counterparts are usually able to enjoy a break from the constant grind of juggling school and sports by going home during the holidays, international student-athletes don’t always enjoy this luxury. Biochemistry senior Johan Sunryd, a Swedish native, and mechanical engineering junior Basak Oguz, a Turkish native, didn’t go home for Thanksgiving.
Instead, Sunryd and Oguz, who have been dating almost two years, spent the holiday with a Turkish foreign teaching assistant Oguz met during her freshman year. The woman made a traditional Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings and provided the two with what Oguz said was a “second home.”
Sunryd and Oguz are not the only international swimmers at MSU. The men’s team also boasts two members from South Africa and one from Poland. MSU swimming head coach Matt Gianiodis said the phenomenon is a mutually beneficial relationship. While the university gains a top-notch athlete, the athlete benefits from the great facilities MSU has to offer and the standard of varsity sports at American universities. This standard of competition often provides international student-athletes the chance to take their sport to the next level. In countries where sports are primarily organized at the club level and are treated as extracurricular activities that don’t necessitate a time commitment like in the United States, athletes are often drawn to American universities to improve their game.
In Gianiodis’ experience, it is especially true for players from some countries in particular. “The poorer the country, the harder the work ethic,” Gianiodis said. “They don’t want to go back…they are work horses because they live with the fear of going back home.”
Students coming from less-developed countries may experience corrupt authoritarian governments, poverty, rampant crime and disease, social inequity and other factors that make the United States a favorable alternative to attending a university back home. But that does not mean students do not have national and cultural pride for their home countries as well.
\”When the plane touches down after the 18-hour flight, I feel really proud of my country,” said South African swim team member and communications senior Rudolf Wagenaar. “You appreciate your country a lot more. Even though we have problems like AIDS and poverty, we don’t hide them.”
In some cases, athletes from more developed countries may have every intention of returning, but change their minds. Kaars Sijpestjin and van der Laag both originally planned on playing for a year or two, but have since decided to stay longer. While many international student-athletes plan to return home with their degrees after graduation, others like Kaars Sijpestjin and van der Laag see America as not just a temporary home, but as a possible permanent residence.
Wagenaar is an exception to the rule. He doesn’t plan to stay in the United States or return to his native country. His wanderlust has instead led him to pursue a graduate degree in public relations at the University of Queensland in Australia. [rudolfmug]
Although “Rudy,” as his teammates call him, misses his mom’s “good ol’” cooking from back home and says he feels like a true Spartan here in East Lansing (evidence of this can be seen in the form of a massive Spartan tattoo underneath his left arm), he said America is too conservative for him and would prefer to live somewhere else for a while. But despite his desire to travel and explore the world, Rudy still enjoys making the yearly trip back to South Africa. Luckily, when he misses home and wants to reminisce, he can talk to his teammate, civil engineering senior Ian Clutten, a fellow South African. The two shared a room during their freshman year and can speak Afrikaans to each other when they want to keep their conversations secret. [cluttenmug]
Tackling the language barrier, developing a taste for greasy food and figuring out little things like where to get a haircut have taken time, but for most international athletes, their varsity teams have provided the support necessary to adjust. Despite all the difficulties and different learning curves each individual international student-athlete must confront, the one thing all of them agreed upon as being most influential on their experiences at MSU has been the unconditional support of their teammates, who have made not only East Lansing, but the United States, a home away from home.
Clutten reflected on this aspect of an international student-athlete’s life: “When you’re away from home you don’t have the family support so it just kind of works out that your friends kind of take that place,” he said. “You are always doing stuff together and you are always doing everything that way…being part of a team, it’s kind of like a family.”

Posted in Global ViewComments (0)