International Student Athletes' Experiences at a Historically Black College and University

By Sato, Takahiro; Burge-Hall, Valerie | VAHPERD Journal, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

International Student Athletes' Experiences at a Historically Black College and University


Sato, Takahiro, Burge-Hall, Valerie, VAHPERD Journal


Introduction

Hampton University, a private historically black college and university (HBCU) in Virginia, has a student body comprised of more than 5700 students coming from the United States and 35 territories and nations. Currently, 15 % of the international students at Hampton University are student athletes. According to Connell (2007), the number of international student athletes is growing steadily on American colleges and universities, because many athletic teams including soccer, track and field, golf, tennis, field hockey, swimming, and volleyball bring attracted stars from overseas. For example, Hampton University's tennis team is dominated by international athletes. For this project, the authors interviewed with international student athletes from South Korea, Serbia, Canada, and Philippines regarding their athletic, academic, and social experiences at Hampton University. From the interviews four themes emerged: overcoming language barriers, developing social relationships, prioritizing academics and athletics, and accepting cultural differences.

Overcoming Language Barriers

Using English as a second language caused barriers academically, athletically, and socially. The interviewees often struggled when studying, communicating, and adjusting to a HBCU. Writing papers, reading assigned materials, and presenting orally were challenging because of the need to shift between the students' native languages and English. Because of the language barrier, the students reported a loss of confidence in their ability to successful complete their undergraduate studies. Minami and Ovando (2004) explained the lack of English proficiency was influenced and interpreted by the international students' knowledge of their own native language and culture. The respondents also had problems adjusting to the HBCU academic culture, including instructors' pronunciations and teaching styles. Moreover, the international student athletes had a hard time understanding class lectures (Wan, 2001), which caused them to be reluctant about participating in class discussions (Lin & Yi, 1997). One of the international student athletes expressed that since attending Hampton University, he joined a Christian church group because the members always proofread his homework assignments. The international student athletes expressed difficulty understanding academic and athletic systems such administrative policies, course registration and NCAA guidelines. Because of the lack of English proficiency, most of the respondents experienced problems when working with the Registrar's office or understanding NCAA regulations. Additionally, the international student athletes experienced communication difficulties that lead to team mistakes. Therefore, the first year for the international student athletes was filled with frustration. Unfortunately, Hampton University does not offer English as a second language courses.

Developing Social Relationships

Overall, these international student athletes had positive social interaction with professors and other students at Hampton University. The respondents stated professors were empathetic to students who used English as a second language. A majority of professors allowed them to use their dictionaries while taking tests or exams or extended homework deadlines. Currently, Hampton University offers full scholarships to ten international tennis players. It was noted that the increased number of international student athletes created positive social experiences within the group. This was because each one respected and accepted differences of social and communication patterns when completing common team goals. All international student athletes interviewed felt the African American students at Hampton University were friendly and welcoming. The international student athletes had more opportunities to interact with African American athletes than the international students on campus.

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