Many young people from across the globe come to the United States each year to attend college, an opportunity that is not an easy feat. They come from all over to become students at American universities and colleges to pursue their education and to experience living the American lifestyle. These students find many ways to do this. One of those ways is through sports.
On Bristol’s King College men’s soccer team, the Tornadoes, seven of the 25 players are international students, most of whom are on scholarship. They come from England, Scotland, Guatemala and the Cayman Islands. The players have to keep a 3.0 grade point average to stay on the team and, for some, to stay at the school.
Sports offer motivation
“It does give me a huge incentive to achieve good grades,” said John Simmons, a sophomore from Billericay, United Kingdom, who is studying history. “Without doing well in class, I will be on a plane home and unable to come back.”
For Simmons, as well as some of the others on the team, the opportunity to play soccer at an American college was the only way to go at all.
“Soccer is the only reason that I am here, otherwise I would be working a 9 to 5 job in London,” said Simmons. “Without soccer, I would never have even have thought of coming to America, let alone have been able to afford it.”
In most other areas outside the U.S., college sports are not the norm. If an athlete wants to play their sport, he or she has to go professional. Universities are more for academics and do not have college sports the way it is done in America.
“Most international students here are athletes,” said Elvin Brown, King College assistant director of athletic recruitment.
“In Guatemala when you start college, you need to decide if you want to keep playing soccer or study, because it is too hard to do both at the same time,” said Raul Laparra, a senior from Guatemala City majoring in sport management.
Laparra attended a community college in California when he first came to the U.S. three years ago, before transferring to King to finish his degree. Like Simmons, Laparra says that without soccer, he would not be here.
“Besides wanting to play soccer,” he said, “the scholarship that I get because of it lets me stay here. Schools here are a lot more expensive than the ones back home and I would not be able to pay for school if it was not for my scholarship.”
Mountains of Tennessee ideal location
Why did they choose the northeast part of Tennessee out of anywhere in the country? The tight-knit group of international teammates seems to agree that the mountains and the weather make the area an ideal location.
“There were a few different areas I was interested in,” said Simmons, “but amongst the mountains in Tennessee just sounded out of this world. Snowy mountains in the winter and warm, sunny weather for most of the rest of the year. I fell in love with the place before I had even come out here.”
American coaches are frequently scouting out players in other countries.
“We heard about sport in the U.S. in a P.E. class at school and it sounded incredible,” said Simmons. “A friend and I were both really interested in this, because to go and experience the American lifestyle and play soccer, it seemed like an incredible thing to be able to do; mind-blowing, in fact.”
“Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t be at King, in America, or in any higher education at all.”
- John Simmons
Simmons and his friend found a company in the United Kingdom that showcases athletes who are looking to go abroad. It was there he was sought out by several coaches from different schools in the United States.
“Until the idea of being a college athlete was brought up in class, I never would have even known the possibility to do this was available,” said Simmons. “Without this opportunity, I wouldn’t be at King, in America, or in any higher education at all.”
The international players agree that they love playing on a team with such diversity.
“Some of my buddies play on teams around here, but they’re not internationally diverse, like we are,” said Danny McBride, a junior from Scotland studying history and political science. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Fortunately for the King College Tornadoes, there aren’t too many language or accent barriers.
“Sometimes we’ll be running down the field and someone will call something out and everyone is just like, ‘what?’ But it’s not a problem,” said McBride. Most of the team spoke English as their first language, but Laparra spoke Spanish.
“My mom and sister speak English, but my dad doesn’t,” said Laparra. “I learned English in school when I was in Guatemala.”
Plans for the future
Laparra would like to stay in the U.S. when if he finishes school, if possible. “I still don’t know what I want to do when I graduate,” he said. “I’m trying to find a job here, but if I can’t find anything, I guess I’ll go back home.”
“I do want to stay here in the U.S.,” said McBride. “If I could play pro soccer over here, it would be awesome. If I did stay out here to play, it wouldn’t be too hard because they would sponsor me to go through the application process for a green card, which is pretty expensive.”
These internationals are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to try out the American lifestyle, and without their sports skills, they might not have gotten the chance.
“Hopefully, if I do have to go back to Europe,” said McBride, “I can come back out here in a few years.”
Work restrictions limit student job opportunities
Once foreign students arrive to start living the “American Dream,” they need to find a way to pay for it.
Their options for work are limited when they come to school here because of visa restrictions put in place by the government. They can’t just get a job anywhere, so their only real option is to work on-campus.
International students face two requirements when they look for a job. First, the type and the location of the job must be connected with the school, for example at the bookstore or in the cafeteria. Second, jobs cannot keep a U.S. citizen out of the position.
The students may work full time while school is not in session, but they cannot work more than 20 hours a week while it is in.
On-campus jobs can be hard to come by, though.
“I used to work in my other school, but not here,” said Raul Laparra, from Guatemala City, who transferred to King from a school in California. “International students can only work on campus, so it’s kind of hard to find a job here at King.”
John Simmons, from England, however, managed to land a job at the laptop help desk. He works there for an hour at a time, usually once a week.
“It wasn’t too hard to get, only because I sorted it out early in the semester, but the student jobs are taken very quickly,” said Simmons. “But as long as you apply early, it’s not too hard to get and keep the job.”
First published in El Nuevo Bristol Herald Courier