The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Home away from home: Life as an International student athlete at DePaul

Jessica Goska
Eleanor Nobbs serves to teammate Eva Goncharov during their tennis practice on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, at the Lakeshore Sports and Fitness in Chicago. Seven of the eight players on this year’s team are international students, including Hannah Smith who is from England and grew up with Nobbs.

Living away from home is never easy.  

Especially for me, an international student-athlete, living thousands of miles away from family can be scary.

Studying overseas offered me the opportunity of a lifetime: to play Division 1 college tennis for DePaul University.

However, it also brought many challenges.

Before I moved to Chicago, as a freshman on the women’s tennis team in September 2021, I was constantly worried about feeling homesick.

Chicago was by far the biggest city I had ever lived in, and it was over 3,000 miles from my hometown in England.

If something went wrong, I could not simply ask my mum to come over and help.

It was up to me to look after myself now, and that thought scared me.

What would happen if I didn’t make friends?

For most international student-athletes, these thoughts are common.

Yagmur Yavuz, a sophomore from Turkey on the volleyball team, agreed.

“My biggest challenge as an international student-athlete is probably being homesick. I miss my family and friends at home, and I also miss the food in Turkey,” Yavuz said.

In addition, the day-to-day life of a student-athlete at DePaul is incredibly busy. Between practices, classes, recovery, meetings and more, it can be difficult to find a moment to breathe.

Add this to the fact that we are so far from home, missing family and worried about things like taxes and visas, it is not hard to see why international student-athletes, like Yavuz and myself, can feel homesick.

So, do we need extra support for our international student-athletes?

Eleanor Nobbs, a DePaul junior on the women’s tennis team, poses with her racket before her teammates arrive for practice on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, at the Lakeshore Sports and Fitness in Chicago. The team of eight players meet Wednesday mornings at the fitness center for two-hour practices. (Jessica Goska)

Personally, I have never felt more supported.

The women’s tennis team at DePaul is full of international players, and I immediately felt welcomed by my older teammates, who had been through similar experiences.

Two years into my time at DePaul, my team has become my second family.

We help each other navigate the ups and downs of the international student-athlete life and are always there for each other.

This is all part of the supportive team culture put into place by the head coach of the women’s tennis team, Marisa Arce, who encourages us all to look out for one another.

One of the many ways Arce builds this culture is by encouraging us to send thank you notes to show our appreciation for those around us. She has also introduced us to positive mindset books by Jon Gordon, such as “The Energy Bus” and “The Carpenter,” and she regularly checks in with us all to make sure that we’re doing okay.

I feel very grateful for this guidance and I know my teammates do too.

But what about international student-athletes on other teams?

“I feel supported by my fellow student-athletes, and we have many resources at DePaul, such as our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion representative Dr. Stephanie Baugh, and compliance help from Carly Dressler,” said Bella Hanisch, a DePaul senior on the women’s soccer team.

Stephanie Baugh, associate director for DEI at DePaul, is an integral part of the support system available to student-athletes at DePaul. This includes making sure that every international student-athlete feels welcomed.

“My role in supporting international student-athletes is to try to connect them to resources, to make sure they’re aware of how ISS can support them, and to make sure they’re aware of some of the NCAA and compliance support that we offer,” Baugh said. “And generally, just like all our student-athletes, to help them pursue their goals, holistically.”

One way Baugh provides this support is by overseeing DePaul’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

SAAC is a student-led representative advocacy leadership group that gives feedback to the Athletic Director and advocates for the voice of their fellow student-athletes.

Baugh points to the International Student-Athlete Experience Committee

within SAAC as one way in which international student-athletes are supported at DePaul.

“The international student-athlete experience committee within SAAC is one of great importance to our SAAC leadership,” Baugh said. “They host a welcome back and they have an unofficial handbook that is full of tips, tricks and FAQs so that incoming international student-athletes have resources.”

Hanisch, the DePaul senior, is chair of this committee, and she agrees that it is a great resource for international student-athletes who need someone to talk to.

“My role is to understand the needs of international student-athletes and provide resources to them for any international-specific questions or struggles they may have,” Hanisch said. “I also like to get to know the athletes on a personal level so that they feel comfortable coming to me with anything.”

As an international student-athlete, we face many challenges.

Homesickness, culture shock and uncertainty about life post-graduation are just a few of the difficulties that can negatively affect your well-being.

However, the support offered by people like Baugh and Hanisch, as well as the leadership of coaches like Arce, have made DePaul feel like a home away from home for many international student-athletes, including myself.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. 

“I think there’s always more that can be done,” said Baugh. “Hopefully we never reach our “endpoint” because we want to be able to continue to progress and learn from our experiences.”

Fortunately, we are on the right path, and enhancing the international student-athlete experience has become an important topic across the country.

“I think the NCAA has done a much better job of turning their attention to how we support international students, which I’m really happy about,” Baugh said. “I think that will provide more support, at least for international student-athletes.”

Despite the challenges, being an international student-athlete on the women’s tennis team at DePaul has been the best experience of my life.

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