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International athletes talk culture

More and more international students are coming to the U.S. as recruiting for collegiate athletics moves overseas.

Half of the Gophers men’s golf team is made up of international students, as is more than half of the men’s tennis team.

While each athlete has his or her own reasons for coming to the U.S., the big business of American college sports and athletics scholarships draw athletes in big numbers.

Here are three of those international student-athletes’ stories, and their takes on the differences between American culture and those of their home countries.

Karina Chiarelli
from São Paulo, Brazil

Gophers women’s tennis coaches recruited junior Karina Chiarelli and convinced her to come to Minneapolis from her native Brazil, despite Minnesota’s weather.

“In the beginning, it was very hard,” Chiarelli said. “I would wear three sweaters and a jacket and everything.”

She said she’s gotten used to the cold winters, but coming from a small town in Brazil, she said adjusting to life at the University was a big change.

“When I went to the Mall of America, it was so big,” she said.

Aside from the weather, Chiarelli said the little differences between Brazilian and American cultures are obvious.

“The food is completely different; here the lunch is just a sandwich – it’s very fast,” she said. “There was, like, very little things that were different, but everything together was a very big change.”

A self-described “home person,” Chiarelli said being away from her family was difficult at first.

“For me, the challenge was to be away from them,” she said. “I got support from my team, and I feel a little more at home here.”

Tijana Koprivica
from Belgrade, Serbia

Junior Gophers tennis player Tijana Koprivicas’ sought to play professional tennis, before an injury in her first professional tournament changed her plans.

After that, she made the move to Minnesota.

Coming from a large city in Serbia, Koprivica said the difference between transportation in Belgrade and Minneapolis was apparent.

“Here, it’s really spread out,” she said. “You cannot live without a car. Where I’m from, you take a bus.”

With most of the stores within walking distance from her home in Belgrade, Koprivica said getting the things she needs is more difficult in the U.S.

“There, you can go every day because it’s right there,” she said. “I have to take two hours of my time to do that and there you didn’t have to.”

Koprivica said while she’s made many friends since coming to the U.S., the way people act together in Serbia is different than it is in America.

“It’s kind of a different atmosphere,” she said. “People are more social there.”

During a night out in Serbia, Koprivica said, her sister’s American boyfriend was surprised at how Serbians interacted.

“I asked him, ‘How did you like the atmosphere?’ He said, ‘If I didn’t know you didn’t know these people, I would think that all of you are family.’ “

Jessica Gabriel
from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Born in Kuwait, junior Gophers track team member Jessica Gabriel spent the first eight years of her life there before moving to the Philippines. Then, she finally graduated from high school in Abu Dhabi.

Nearly three years ago, she came to Minneapolis for school, but Gabriel said she still considers Abu Dhabi home.

The biggest difference between her lives at home and at the University, she said, is the diversity – or the lack thereof in Minnesota.

While she graduated with only 57 other students, Gabriel said there were at least 25 different nationalities in that group.

“I’m definitely used to growing up in a school environment where there’s a lot of diversity,” she said. “It was a change to go to a more homogenous environment.”

Another difference, Gabriel said, is the way people conduct themselves in public in the United States versus the way people do in Abu Dhabi.

Gabriel said, for example, public displays of affection are frowned upon in Abu Dhabi.

“The first time I saw two people kissing in public I was, like, appalled,” she said. “Obviously I got used it, but it was a change.”

Gabriel said she wonders if growing up in the United States would have helped her achieve more, athletically.

“I would have had better facilities,” she said. “But what I gained from having an international lifestyle is far greater than that.”

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