Moving an ocean away from their parents and usual lives, senior international athletes have found being involved in a sport helped them transition to the unknown at the University of South Dakota when they first arrived on campus.
Senior Nicole Seekamp, a psychology major and guard on the Coyote women’s basketball team, arrived in Vermillion in 2011 after living in her hometown of Renmark, South Australia and various towns around the area.
“I thought it seemed like a family here, and the team seemed really nice,” Seekamp said.
For her, communication between coaches began before graduating high school, and the way people she met and interacted with was appealing to her.
“(I) communicated with them well enough — that was the biggest part of it, who I was going to be surrounded with,” Seekamp said.
She was used to country-like towns in Australia, and Vermillion is similar in size and atmosphere to her hometown, she said.
On the other hand, senior Yamini Reddy, a tennis player, was born and raised in Bangalore, India — a city of 4 million people — where she said there were not only a lot of people, but a lot of things to do and public transportation to take advantage of.
“I think that was the hardest thing for me to get used to, you know, coming here,” she said. “If I wanted to do something, I would have to depend on another person and not knowing anyone was really hard, or not having a car.”
Something that is commonplace to South Dakotans, Reddy said she had to get used to people she didn’t know saying, ‘Hi,’ around town.
“That’s the charm about the Midwest. Everyone is just so polite and friendly, so that took a little bit of getting used to,” Reddy said.
For Seekamp, the conversational atmosphere was similar to home, but she does miss the cuisine from her country.
“Everything else is pretty similar,” she said. “(But) being so far away from family was hard.”
However, her family members do make it a point to visit her in the spring, usually around the Summit League tournament time, to watch her play.
Seekamp plans to go home for about a month after graduation to see her brother and his wife and kids, and then hopes to play professionally either in the Women’s National Basketball Association or Euroleague.
Senior James Hunter, a center on the Coyote men’s basketball team, has dreams of playing in the NBA, but mostly anywhere professionally. He attended boarding school as a high schooler near Sydney, Australia, so he was used to being away from parents and his home for extended periods of time.
When he came to the United States, he experienced a bit of culture shock but nothing terribly overwhelming, he said.
Hunter graduated from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., in the spring of 2014 with an interdisciplinary studies degree. This is his first year at USD as a graduate student, but it is also his last year playing at the collegiate level. He said he hopes to play professionally overseas upon graduation if the NBA doesn’t work out.
Hunter said some of the coaches and players on the team can sometime mistake his and some of his fellow Australian buddies’ laid back attitudes for laziness. But he said having others from the same country on the team is nice.
“We Australians like to stick together,” he said.
After five years of being away from his home in Australia, Hunter said he doesn’t experience homesickness, and he usually makes it home at the end of every year.
He is working toward a Master of Business Administration, and when he has one year under his belt at the end of this semester, he plans to finish his final two years of the program online.
After all that he’s experienced and all the places he’s been in his college career, he said he wouldn’t change anything, since everything happens for a reason.
“There’s no sense in looking back,” Hunter said.
Reddy’s tennis career started back when she was 10 years old, playing as a family sport at first and then competitively throughout her teenage years. She decided she wanted to continue playing at the college level in the U.S.
She said her transition to the U.S. was not terribly hard, because she could Skype her family back home, and she has developed her own sort of family in South Dakota.
“I think it helps to be a part of a sport because you’re immediately put across to your teammates, you kind of spend a lot of time with them so they become your family, almost, you look after each other,” Reddy said.
With everyone on the tennis team being international students, she said it makes things easier when none of their parents are at every sporting event to cheer them on.
Overall, Reddy said she is glad she made the leap to come to the U.S.
“USD was the perfect fit for me personally, just because it’s allowed me to grow as an individual, get so much more involved, almost find myself,” Reddy said. “I’ve become more passionate in my career and my sport.”