All it took was one phone call.
Barbara Oria Boer, a senior member of the women’s tennis team, was in New York City Labor Day weekend, attempting to catch a glimpse of some tennis action at the 2006 U.S. Open. But, at that point, tickets for the event were few and far between.
So Boer, a native of Mallorca, Spain, pulled a few strings and eventually placed a call to a close family friend: Toni Nadal, the uncle and coach of Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 ranked tennis player in the world who is also from Mallorca.
Not only did Boer get the tickets, she got to watch Nadal win his early round match among thousands of fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium, in Queens, N.Y.
She even got to talk to the tennis superstar during his practice session before the match.
“I just asked him how he liked the [United] States,” she said.
Life in the United States has been good for Boer, a broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media major who is actively pursuing her goal of becoming a television reporter once she graduates next fall.
Boer is one of 724 undergraduate international students who are enrolled at the university this fall.
International students only make up three percent of the 24,000-plus undergraduate population at Temple, according to statistics compiled by the Office of Institutional Research.
But those numbers increase once a student leaves the classroom and enters the playing field.
International students comprise almost 9 percent of the 333 athletes who currently participate in one of the 13 varsity fall sports, according to the Athletic Department.
Several fall sports teams have at least one international athlete on their roster, including the volleyball team and the men’s and women’s tennis and soccer teams.
Temple’s international student-athletes represent more then 15 different countries including Israel, Colombia, India, Senegal, Ukraine, Peru, Russia, Greece, France, China, the United Kingdom and Japan.
More than half of the 10 players on the women’s tennis team grew up outside of the United States. Boer, who transferred to Temple from Florida Southern two years ago, said the team embraces its cultural diversity.
“I think it’s great to have so many people from different countries on the team,” she said. “There are a lot of new things that we can learn from one another.”
Boer, like many other athletes who compete in non-revenue sports, essentially recruited herself to the tennis team, sending e-mails and videos to the coaches before making a visit to the campus.
In order to discover international athletes, many coaches establish contacts overseas to help them recruit prospective players.
Before he came to Temple, assistant volleyball coach Bai Qing Liu spent 10 years coaching the women’s volleyball team at the Shanghai Sports School in China, the same school that current Owls volleyball players Yan Liu and Ying Sun Ling attended.
Men’s soccer coach David MacWilliams has gone overseas to watch players compete in international tournaments and has attended the Dallas Cup, a prestigious youth tournament that attracts top soccer players from around the world.
Men’s tennis coach Steve Mauro said he doesn’t travel overseas to recruit, but that he does follow the progress of certain players on the Internet at sites like ITFtennis.com, the International Tennis Federation’s web site.
The majority of recruits typically get in touch with him first, he said.
“Most of the kids contact me,” Mauro said. “I usually get between three to four e-mails a week from students who want to get a scholarship to play tennis.”
Mauro said three of his international players are on partial scholarship.
Freshman tennis player Aymeric de Conde graduated from Radnor High in Radnor, Pa., after moving to the United States from Paris in 2001.
He was a walk-on with Mauro’s team after contacting the coach and attending a tryout last month.
“I was actually pretty happy and surprised that I got onto a Division I team,” Conde said. “I went [to the tryout] saying that I have nothing to lose, but I wasn’t expecting to get in.”
One of the reasons Conde decided to attend Temple was because his sister, Margaux, a junior communications major, also attends the university.
Gary Bundy, assistant athletic director for student services, said international students are drawn to Philadelphia because it is a large, cosmopolitan market that is dynamic and diverse.
He added that Temple is a “hot and burgeoning campus.”
“These students recognize the Temple name internationally, particularly in athletics,” Bundy said.
“They seek us out …You have to understand that many international students see the United States as a beacon of hope. Temple is outstanding in academics and athletics when compared to other universities. This is why they seek us out. It almost makes our coaches’ jobs a little easier.
“…Coaches don’t have to knock the door down,” Bundy continued. “Many of these kids are making themselves known.”
The initial transition to college life can often be difficult enough for even those who are born in America.
The switch that international athletes endure is a completely different trek. Bundy said Temple’s Student Services helps make the transition easier by “[facilitating] the things that a lot of American students take for granted,” such as finding a bank, restaurant or gaining access to financial aid – in this case, NCAA funding.
Student services also offers the CHAMPS/Life Skills program, an NCAA-created initiative that includes a variety of workshops on issues like healthy dieting, alcohol usage and sexual responsibility to international athletes, Bundy said.
Programs like CHAMPS/Life Skills are partially intended to help decrease the risk that coaches may take when they recruit international athletes.
The inability to see an international athlete play in person could also pose a risk to coaches and their teams, Mauro said.
“If [I’m] going to offer them a scholarship, I can’t go overseas to watch players,” he said. “So, it’s tough for me to really get an estimate on how good they are.”
MacWilliams said it can be very difficult for an international athlete to adapt to college life, on and off the field.
“One of the risks is [whether they] can they get adjusted to the United States,” MacWilliams said. “Collegiate soccer in America is a lot more physical at times [than the international style of soccer].
That’s an issue.
“Entering the program kids may get homesick, since it might be their first time away from home and that is the case with any kid from out of state,” he continued.
“Maturity-wise, there is always a risk … there is the language barrier that you have to look into. It takes a lot of work” to find out if an international athlete will be able to adjust.
Freshman midfielder Mike Puppolo said it took him a while to adjust.
Puppolo was born in Sacramento, Calif., but moved to Heidelberg, Germany with his family after his mother, a U.S. Army civilian, was stationed there seven years ago. Puppolo said he had to adapt to a different style of soccer and to a whole new lifestyle, again.
He said returning to America was not as easy as he thought.
“Actually, it was pretty tough,” Puppolo said.
“I always figured that I would go to school in the States … but it was tough. The first couple of months were really hard. A lot of kids can go home for the weekend and I can’t really do that. There is a six hour time difference so I can only call my family at certain times.”
Puppolo said MacWilliams was one of the people who helped him get acclimated.
“[Players] being away from home is one reason we feel we need to help them get comfortable with their surroundings,” MacWilliams said.
Volleyball junior Yue Liu, who is from TianJing, China, said coach Bob Bertucci helped her adjust to college life by communicating with her.
“I think Coach helped me a lot,” Liu said.
“Because [in] my freshman year, my English was not very good and he would help me by asking me ‘How’s your class?’ everyday.”
A little communication can go a long way, since many international athletes said the hardest thing to adjust to is not athletics, but being miles and miles away from their families.
“Definitely, there was a period when I was homesick,” said senior soccer player and Bermuda native Jonathan Ball.
“But at the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that I have to get my education and just focus on that and tread my own path.”
Ball transferred from Oral Roberts after he learned that Temple had “one of the top risk management programs” in the country.
A key for any international student-athlete’s success, Ball said, is to stay motivated and involved.
Ball, an active member of the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness, will join other Fox School of Business students in January for Destination: India, a 10-day trip to study abroad in Mumbai, India.
“Soccer has been a gateway for me as far as getting to school and building a foundation of discipline, mental toughness and strength,” he said. “I apply those qualities to soccer and to life.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.