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By: Ryan Berti, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- At the age of 17, most American student-athletes are searching for the next place to go in life. The decision on whether to go to a nearby college in their home state, or to travel across state lines in order to explore somewhere new, can seem like a challenging one. The move away from home and into intercollegiate sports appear as starting anew in a foreign place.
Most student-athletes do not truly face those fears, however. Wherever they go inside the U.S., their accents, cuisine and customs might be slightly different, but these are all just small disparities in a place where the language and overall style of living largely remain the same.
Raised in the Netherlands, both Meijer and Bovelander came to University Park to join the field hockey squad. For the latter, this is her first semester on campus, while the former became the first international player in program history last season.
Missing out on Christmas and her father's 50th birthday, all the while adjusting to an entirely new culture, the move to the U.S. for Meijer last year was full of challenges the majority of student-athletes never have to face.
"Last year was a bit of a culture shock," Meijer said. "Everything is different; including the field hockey. You don't have your family anymore and you don't have your old friends or your old habits. They're all gone, and you have to start all over again."
While English is taught and spoke in Holland, the current sophomore says she had a difficult time in her first few weeks holding conversations.
Finding a way to transition between her new home and where she grew up was something that would not come easy, but one thing that helped bridge the gap between the two was her involvement in athletics.
Meijer was instantly in a group she could call herself a part of with the field hockey team, and being able to make those immediate bonds are what helped her find a place she felt she belonged.
"[The transition] was pretty hard, but you have your whole team," she said. "You already have a lot of people that you know that are friends and they always say that they are your family, and it's kind of true because you're always with them and they'll always be there for you, so it helps a lot."
After a freshman season that saw her start all 19 games and record six goals, she solidified herself as one of the most outstanding players on the field and most outgoing players off of it.
Now in her sophomore year, Meijer continues to play with ease. A goal in Tuesday's game against Bucknell accounted for her sixth point in the season's first five games.
With the arrival of Bovelander, Meijer has found more comfort off the field, as well by finding someone who understands what it's like coming here from the Netherlands.
The two have in common the things they find odd; including the American's overly positive energy, the students driving oversized cars instead of riding bikes, and then of course - there's the food.
"In the Netherlands, I will eat cookies and chocolate, but here it's like everywhere. There's junk food everywhere," Meijer said. Other foods Americans see as every day consumptions, like bagels with cream cheese, waffles and the large amounts of pizza, are seen more so as sweets rather than actual meals in Holland.
Bovelander, whose mother also played field hockey in the United States at the University of North Carolina, has been able to use her connection with Meijer to better understand Penn State since she already had a years experience under her belt.
"It's good to have someone who experience the same, like if I have a question I can go to her," Bovelander says. "It's fun to have somebody who is experiencing the exact same thing," Meijer added.
In practice, the two agree the language barrier can be a bit hard to break through at first. But when in doubt, their teammates guide them through examples so they can follow along.
Through all the hardships of their move to America, the two have found bliss in not only the company of each other, but the company of their teammates and the overall community.
"The people here are so nice and everybody just wants to help you," Bovelander said. "It makes it a whole lot easier."
The girls noted one of their favorite aspects about campus is the overall proud nature of the students as they support the school through their apparel and overall spirit.
"It's so cool to see how proud people are for Penn State," Meijer said. "We didn't have cultures like this in Holland at all, so it's really good experience."
As the two continue on through the season on the turf they share a passion for, their skills will grow side-by-side with the friendships between themselves and others, giving them a sense of home away from home.
Although they have lived just a short time in America, they do have one thing they definitely recommend for all other international students trying to make the same move to a college in the States.
"Join a sports team," Bovelander said. "If you're on a team you'll have friends like immediately, and if I wasn't on a team, it would be so much harder."
"Yeah," Meijer agreed. "And just be excited for it and enjoy your time."