International experience helps Gophers

Minnesota has two players and a coach who are from outside of the U.S. They say this brings unique perspectives.

Freshman Paulina Swider jumps for the ball on Thursday, Sept. 13 at Maturi Pavilion. Gopher Women's Volleyball defeated Green Bay in three straight sets.

Tony Saunders

Freshman Paulina Swider jumps for the ball on Thursday, Sept. 13 at Maturi Pavilion. Gopher Women’s Volleyball defeated Green Bay in three straight sets.

David Mullen

From a distance, the No. 6 Minnesota volleyball team looks like every other team, but out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten, Minnesota is one of only five teams with an international student on their on rosters.

The Gophers have two international players. One is sophomore outside hitter Alice Zeimann who came to the states from New Zealand, just as head coach Hugh McCutcheon had.

New to the states this year is freshman middle blocker Paulina Swider, a U.S. native who spent the majority of her life growing up in Poland. 

When first coming to campus, Zeimann said she instantly fell in love.

“It felt like it was something out of a movie,” Zeimann said. “The people were really nice and kind of like home in that sense.”

For Swider, she said everything just felt right about Minnesota as she found out more about the program.

“I found Minnesota and I dug deeper into the team culture, the city, the campus and community, and it looked great,” Swider said. “So I decided to reach out to the coaching staff and it worked out.”

Both Zeimann and Swider sent their film to the coaching staff, which consisted of footage of their times playing for the Polish and New Zealand youth and junior international teams. This experience they said brings a unique perspective to the team.

“The international game teaches you different things,” Zeimann said. “So I think it brings some diversity.”

McCutcheon said the international experiences brings knowledge that others might not have.

“Both of these athletes have played with volleyball players significantly older then them, so I think they learned stuff from there,” McCutcheon said.

After arriving in Minnesota, the transition to a new school was tough like for any freshman. Coming to a new country was another adjustment in itself. 

“It was really hard [transitioning],” Zeimann said. “I think the hardest part was being away from my family.”

Swider echoed similar thoughts and coach McCutcheon said the coaching staff does its best to ensure all of their athletes are doing well.

“I try to check in on them regularly to make sure they’re doing OK” McCutcheon said. “Leaving your country and living in a different place and not having the same kind of support system that you usually do is a big adjustment, but they both seem to be doing really well.”

Swider said the biggest cultural difference for her is the general openness of the American public.

“It’s more sociable, open and friendly. Not saying Polish people aren’t friendly, but they are more open here where strangers will say ‘hi’ on the street,” Swider said. 

Zeimann said simple tasks such as going to the grocery store was a challenge at first. 

“I’d go to the grocery store and not recognize any products, so that was hard,” Zeimann said.

As far as volleyball, Zeimann said a challenge was getting to know the different types of signs that were used in the U.S. rather than in New Zealand. 

“I had to learn the different signals, literally every sign for plays was different,” Zeimann said.

A little more than a year in, however, Zeimann said that Minneapolis and the U.S. has become home.

“It all took a little getting used to but now it’s like my home,” Zeimann said.