By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most students pack their bags and hit the open road for
a few hundred miles directly to Happy Valley knowing that their families and
friends are far enough away that they won't bug them on the weekends but close
enough for when they get homesick.
Other students, however, are hungry for opportunities that they may not
find only a few hundred miles from home so, they choose to go beyond the
borders of their comfort zones and travel thousands of miles to chase
adventures and experiences.
GoPSUsports.com sat down with three track and field student-athletes to
talk about their time in the United States and at Penn State.
Freshman Jordan Makins wandered just over 10,000 miles away from his family
and friends in Perth, Australia to join the Nittany Lions.
Freshman Obeng Marfo comes to State College from the neighbors up north in
Ontario, Canada and senior Annjulie Vester flew across the sea all the way from
GoPSU: What were the reactions of your
friends and family when you told them you were going to the United States to be
Makins: Well, a lot of people said 'You're really not going to do that, you're
just talking about it'. It's a pretty big move to make and to get the whole
thing set up from 10,000 miles away. There was definitely a little bit of awe -
they told me it was all a big dream.
Vester: My friends were really excited and super supportive actually more
than my family. My mom and my dad were saying, 'this is a big dream, you don't
know how things [work in America]'. For me, it's 4,000 miles. You can't really
grasp that. They've never been here. They've just seen New York on TV. I just
pushed through and they all got really excited once it all started happening
and once I got here and now they're super supportive.
Marfo: All my friends and family were really supportive. My school made a
big deal about signing day and the letter of the intent. They had the news come
in and everything.
GoPSU: What was the first thing you
thought when you realized you were really coming to Penn State?
Makins: The first thing I though was 'I don't have nearly enough winter
gear'. I thought it was going to snow the first month I was here - I was really
nervous! I panicked a little and bought a lot of stuff.
Vester: I thought I was going to get fat but, luckily, I didn't. I usually
cook at home [back in Germany] and you don't go out to eat a lot. I wasn't used
to all this massive food and all the fat.
Marfo: Yeah, I thought I was going to get fat too. My brothers were teasing
me about it saying, 'don't get fat. Don't eat this and that.'
GoPSU: At what moment did it finally hit
you that you were really in America?
Makins: Two things for me. One is that it is incredibly green. Back home
it's dry and [looks like a] dessert so it was an awesome experience to see all
the forestry. The other thing was the first month we were eating out everyday
and all the places had burgers and chips. The burgers with no vegetables...I
struggled. I felt so unhealthy for a while.
Vester: When I was in Virginia and I was touring a campus in a car, I
looked around and it looked like Hogwarts! It was just so beautiful.
Marfo: Well, for me, I've been to America many times but I remember one day
I went to Wal-Mart with my family. It felt like a regular Wal-Mart, it wasn't
any different than in Canada but I asked one of the ladies [that was working]
for Christmas lights. She told me they didn't have any so I said, 'okay, thank
you'. I said thank you and she responded with 'mhm'! So, that's when I thought,
'Yeah, only in America'. In Canada, everyone always says 'you're welcome' or 'no
problem'. Never 'mhm'! I was so hurt that whole day.
GoPSU: What has been your favorite part of
being on the team at Penn State?
Vester: The new people and I love that the team is so close. We have so
many team meetings and they really want us to participate as a team. That's
what I really liked. I feel comfortable going to practice because it's like a
Makins: I'd say that was the most exciting moment for me [too]. The team
and how welcoming they were. Looking into the roster was a big deal for me for
which school I'd pick and Penn State's middle distance roster was something I
wanted to fit into. It feels like home.
GoPSUsports.com also caught up with assistant coach Ryan Foster who came
to Penn State from Tasmania, Australia a few years ago to join the program as a
student-athlete and has remained in the State College area ever since.
What were some of the most shocking things you remember about first arriving to
the United States and to Penn State?
Foster: There was a bit of culture shock coming from another country.
The collegiate athletic scene is pretty foreign. Americans like to call everybody coach. It's
always 'coach' and when I got here I always said 'Oh, John,' so it was
something I had to get used to and get out of that habit. People made fun of me
for a while.
Do you ever consider those feelings when working with students like Jordan,
Annjulie, and Obeng?
Foster: I definitely think about having been through it. There's a difference
between being 100 miles from home like a lot of the freshman are versus being
10,000 miles from home. A lot of the different things these student athletes
deal with, I have a pretty good perspective on. You cannot just call your
parents whenever you want to. Being an international student-athlete is
different because you don't have the same support network. I competed at Penn
State for three years and my parents never saw me compete once in the States.
Every time you compete, you're pretty much on your own.
So, what made it easier for you to deal with the circumstances?
Foster: Penn State does a really good job of making everybody feel included.
I've been here so long, I don't even think about [being foreign] often