Michele Molodynia —
2,431 miles: the distance Juan David Lopez Nieto travelled to reach his destination in Louisville, Kentucky. Lopez Nieto was a national swimmer in Bogota, Colombia before coming to the University of Louisville’s swim team as a freshman in 2011. Not only did he have to continue swimming fast in order to keep his scholarship, but he was also expected to deal with certain variables, which, for most Americans, are second nature.
As an international, while preparing to enter in to America, you are told the basics. You need to take your SAT and ACT, even though you have no idea what the words “sat” and “act” have to do with getting into college. You will also need to determine your cumulative GPA, something that many other countries such as Canada do not use in the grading system. Lastly, make sure you pack all your necessities you wish to bring with you over to Louisville — any clothes, wall decorations and small kitchen supplies that you want to pack. Try fitting those into your luggage without going over the 50-pound limit. You are then told anything and everything else can be bought once you settle in to your dorms. What your parents and future coaches fail to mention is that, going to another country with only a bag on your back and a duffle bag in your hand isn’t nearly enough to sustain you, even for just the first night. You need sheets to cover your bed, towels to shower and a dresser for your clothes would be great. These are things you could bring with you if you lived somewhere where driving to college is an option. For someone like Juan, though, a drive to and from home was nonexistent.
Aside from all the basic, smaller struggles of being an international student, Juan struggles with certain differences while trying to live an American life. One of his main struggles is connecting with his family and friends from home. “I think the hardest part is being so far away from family and friends is not being able to communicate properly,” Lopez Nieto said. Family, especially within Hispanic culture, is very important. Family time is especially treasured, and when a son, brother or friend leaves to another country for four years, it can place a lot of stress on the relationships. Not everyone can call their parents or friends when they’re having a bad day. International students usually do not have the financial means to support their $30 phone calls per week. This leaves them with the choice to Skype or FaceTime — glitchier options.
On top of having difficulty communicating with family and friends, the reasons why you want to talk to them in the first place can also be new. Juan was accustomed to 60 to 70 degree weather year-round until arriving to the United States. The weather was a difficult change for this swimmer. He had never experienced such cold. “I was not prepared at all for below zero,” Lopez Nieto said. “No one told me or warned me that it ever got this cold.” Mind you, some international students, such as myself, come from colder areas than Kentucky, but for those coming “up North,” snow and cold are a whole new concept.
The life of a foreigner is exciting at times. Meeting new people from all around the world, learning a new language, a new political system, and realizing how different our world is can be an unforgettable experience. At the same time, the challenges we face are not your ordinary stressors, such as test taking and late-night coffees runs, but are instead sometimes feelings of loneliness, and isolation. So, the next time you see one of us on campus, give us a friendly smile or a heart-warming hello, because you just might be emulating the family and comfort we miss so dearly.