29 Sep How Presentation College became a landing spot for international soccer players
Clayton Scott is stuck.
The goalkeeper originally from Echuca, Australia, has barely set his roots after moving to the U.S. to play soccer at the collegiate level and he’s already having culture shock in a convenience store in Dallas.
Fumbling around with the new currency in his hands, he’s struggling to make sense of all the coins he never had to deal with in his homeland. He finally finds the right amount of money, but a line now snakes behind him.
“I just turned around and apologized and everyone just stared at me and was like, He’s not from here,” Scott said.
Scott’s situation is a shared experience that him and several others at Presentation College face. With 11 international players apart of the soccer programs, culture shock isn’t a new concept. It’s a window into the lengths others will go to in order to study and play the sport they love.
“The fact that you can still play soccer and study at the same time, it is not possible in England. Once you get at a high level, you have to choose soccer or studying,” sophomore midfielder Jubril Adesigbin said.
Others echoed the same sentiment with all looking for opportunities to live out the student-athlete lifestyle and explore a new country.
For the women, four players represent three countries, with sophomore defender Yasmin Knock, and junior midfielder Georgia-May Murphy both hailing from England, sophomore forward Abbie Rodgers representing Scotland, and Amy Turner coming from Ireland.
The men have even more international representation with seven players coming from five countries. Australia leads the way with three players, including junior goalkeepers Scott and Jack Murray, and sophomore defender Justin McClurg. Brazil has two on the roster with junior defender Lucas Vieira Vassimon and junior midfielder Cassio Fortes, while Adesigbin represents England and sophomore midfielder Kotaro Okado comes from Japan.
While the opportunity to go to school and play a sport is alluring, it’s also a luxury for women in other countries.
“Women’s soccer is taken more seriously in America than it is at home,” Murphy said.
All played in their respective clubs, but would have had to made the decision to study at a university or play for a club. There wasn’t a middle ground.
“There’s a lot more money put into sport in America than there is in other parts of the world,” Turner said. “The universities up here are a lot different in like the facilities are a lot better here.”
And the efforts put into soccer have shown themselves in the American style of play being more “athletic” than in the United Kingdom.
“I think a lot of the time, fitness wins you games than technique,” Murphy said.
That statement rang true for Knock. “It’s so much faster-paced. When I went home at Christmas, I played for a team back home and found myself just getting bored because I felt like the game was so slow,” she added. “I was like, Oh, I actually have time to breathe? Whereas here, it’s so much more intense. I like that about it though.”
Meanwhile, the international players have made an impact on the women’s program so far this season. Of the ten goals scored in the regular season, Turner has accounted for three of them, while Murphy has two goals. In the 2-1 win over Doane University at home, Rodgers scored her first goal of the season while assisting on Murphy’s goal.
“You got to create your own family”
Upon coming to an entirely new country with vastly different time zones from their home countries, the players are eager to live out the dreams they’ve had since they were younger, but they also feel the downside of homesickness. And while most people their age venture off to school, there’s an extra challenge with leaving the country compared to moving a few hours away from home.
“Everyone knows when you go to university that you’re going out the nest and you’re not going to be around your parents as much. But I think it’s more of a psychological thing knowing that they’re physically so far away,” Murphy said. “You can’t just go and see them whenever you want. I suppose that because in America, someone from Texas might come all the way up here and they’re still really far from their parents, but I think it’s a thing of just like, there’s an ocean away from them. It adds a bit more.”
And it’s not uncommon for the challenge to become too much for international players. Murphy knows of several people who left her hometown of Liverpool and returned because they “either got scared or came here and didn’t like it.” What’s kept Murphy in Aberdeen the past three years is her ability to drown out the noise and focus on her passion.
“That’s what you come to do so you might as well make the most of it and just take all of the opportunities. I know it’s like cringey and stuff, but coach [John Mclean] always says, You get to be here and there’s a lot of girls that don’t get this opportunity so you might as well take it,” Murphy said.
It also helps having a Scottish head coach heading the women’s program the past three years, as he understands the culture for the international players while also offering a “best of both worlds” approach for the U.S. players. Mclean’s heritage played a key role in recruiting Rodgers two years ago when she was making her decision on coming to the U.S.
“When he was talking to me about coming here, he was explaining Aberdeen as things back home. Like this place is like this place, and I’m like, Oh, I get it. He relates a lot of stuff to back home,” Rodgers said.
One thing that helped parents cope with seeing their children move across the world is the smaller campus size of Presentation College and the smaller, tightknit community of Aberdeen.
“You want somewhere that your parents feel comfortable with you going to as well. The family environment felt like a home away from home even though we’re far away,” Knock said.
In Murray’s case, the family he’s made in Aberdeen has helped him as he’s dealt with being away from his family the last two years due to COVID restrictions in his state of Queensland, Australia.
“Hopefully next summer,” Murray said. “But it’s alright, I’ve been here now and I’m used to it. The school has let me stay both summers, which is really good. COVID hasn’t been too bad here in Aberdeen, things have been pretty open. And I still call my parents once a week so there’s always a touch base back home.”
“It’s basically a second home now pretty much.”
The imitation game
When Murphy first moved to Aberdeen, she told her mom that she felt like she was on a “different planet.” Even though everyone spoke the same language as her, it didn’t feel like that.
As soon as the words rolled off her tongue, the stares and stunned looks followed. As is the case for all players. With their U.S. teammates, they’ll often have to repeat themselves when certain words or phrases don’t catch on.
“I don’t think I go a day out here without someone trying to imitate my accent,” Knock said.
No matter where they go, someone will notice.
“When I went to go get my vaccine, I had a ten-minute conversation because the receptionist was just obsessed with my accent. She sat there trying to imitate my accent and giving me her whole life story about how she loves England. I was like, Great,” Knock added.
But don’t ever confuse the accents for the wrong country either.
“The thing that is quite disrespectful to us Australians is how Americans think we’re British. It grinds my gears,” Scott said.
But once people figure out that he’s Australian, the imitations come.
“It’s hilarious because they all suck,” Scott said. “No one can do a good Australian accent.”
As most of the international players come from English-speaking countries, others like Fortes had to learn English when he moved from Porto Alegre, Brazil to a small town in Kansas for community college.
“Back in Brazil, if you live in a city, it’s like 1.5 million and then I came to Kansas and it’s like 9,000. And the whole language thing. I took English classes before, but it’s not the same when you’re around people that just speak English. At the beginning in the first three months, it was weird. My English was way worse,” Fortes said.
Into the wild
Besides the language, things from long bus rides to drive-thru banks to the national anthem are counted as culture shocks for the athletes. Murphy is always taken aback before games when the U.S. national anthem plays because it’s not the norm to play the national anthem ahead of games in the UK.
“I don’t even know the national anthem, but I know the American one now,” she added.
What gets most of the European-born athletes about the long bus rides is how spread out the landscape of the U.S. is.
“Six-hour drive is normal for these guys,” Adesigbin said. “I’m like, six hours? I don’t want to do that.”
Presentation College is often logging several hours as they face many different schools spread across the Midwest in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
“The other day when we had our eight-hour bus ride, that’s like the whole of the UK,” Rodgers said.
“I think that’s a big difference because this country is absolutely huge. When we say a three-hour journey at home, that’s like, whoa, that’s a long time,” Murphy said. “But three hours here is nothing. That’s definitely an adjustment, but when you’re with the team, it’s not as bad. But a six-hour road trip is not my idea of a good time.”
What separates South Dakota from the rest of the country is the harsh winters that define the state. From high winds to below-zero temperatures, those coming from temperate to tropical climates have been along for the ride of their lives. Even if they still haven’t figured out Fahrenheit versus Celsius.
“The thing is here, it will be sunny outside and still be like –20 something. It makes no sense,” Adesigbin said. “I’ve never been in that weather in my life, it should not be legal. After you get to like –5 Celsius in the UK, there’s no school, nothing. No one is out. Out here it’s another day.”
Especially for Fontes, who grew up in a town that doesn’t go below the 60s, South Dakota has been another beast.
“We still go to class!” he said. “We go out and it’s freaking cold and you have everything on and you go inside the rooms and have to take it all off.”
Even with extreme weather, the international athletes have found a community within each other and their American teammates that have kept them in Aberdeen. As they continue their time at Presentation College, they are creating the experiences they hoped for from the beginning.
“It is really welcoming here. Obviously, it’s a cultural shift, but it’s basically another home,” Murray said. “They don’t treat us differently, if anything they treat us better.”
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