Out of the nine players on Eckerd College’s Women’s Basketball team, only two are domestic students. The other seven are international students, all hailing from different countries: Austria, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, France, Iceland and England. 

The differences in cultural backgrounds and home countries do not affect the group dynamics, however. 

“I don’t see a difference between the domestic and international students on the team,” Natalie Kalaydjiev, team forward from Austria, said. 

Kalaydjiev transferred to Florida from Eastern Wyoming College over the summer. Her teammate, Sofia Persson, also transferred to Eckerd this year. While Persson, from Sweden, attended the University of San Francisco two years ago, she came across an Eckerd game online. 

“The whole team seemed very close to each other,” Persson said. “Everyone was high-fiving each other. Maybe it seemed like a small thing but I came from a team where I didn’t feel that connection. It was an important thing for me.” 

Both athletes had been playing basketball since their youth as they came from basketball-playing families. Kalaydjiev’s two older sisters played basketball since they were young, so she grew up playing with athletes. 

Persson recalls starting basketball when she was nine years old because, at the time, her town did not have any basketball teams for kids under the age of nine. Now, however, younger children can train and compete in her town. 

When comparing the basketball environment in their respective countries to American athletic culture, both noted the difference in societal attitudes toward basketball. 

“Basketball is not a very big sport in Sweden,” Persson said. “It’s very fun playing here in the U.S., everyone knows basketball and is interested in basketball in some way.” 

Like many transfer athletes, both Kalaydjiev and Persson were attracted to Eckerd because of the closeness of their teams, the friendliness of their coaches and the beach on campus. However, their academics are also an integral part of their day-to-day lives. 

“When you have games and other exciting things to look forward to, it is easier to manage everything,” Kalaydjiev said.

For athletes, time management and prioritization are essential skills to excel both academically and in sports. 

“You feel like you’re practicing more [as the season approaches], but you have to plan,” Persson said. “As long as you plan your time, you’re going to get it done.” 

Both athletes noted that the differences in schedules with non-athlete students at Eckerd pose a hurdle in socializing. Because their rigorous training requires them to attend early morning practices, late night hangouts are completely off the table.

Having an entire team going though the same training and practice, however, greatly helps international student athletes feel welcome at Eckerd. 

“We go through the same things,” Kalaydjiev said. “Like, we know we have practice at 6 a.m. and it’s easier to talk and connect with [my teammates].” 

Fortunately, the teammates typically live in the same dorm as well. This prevents any late-night noisiness when the athletes have to sleep. 

“It’s natural that the basketball team is close,” Persson said. “We live together. We practice together.”

The entire basketball team has a very family-like relationship amongst one another. 

“The players who were here last year reached out to us when we committed,” Persson said. “So when we came here, it just felt like we all connected very well from the start.” 

Currently, the basketball team participates in scrimmage games. The new season will began on Nov. 3. Triton Tipoff, the annual festivities celebrating the beginning of the basketball season, occurred on Nov. 6 at the GO Pavilion. 

“I’m very excited about the whole season because I feel like we’re going to grow closer as a team and make new memories.” Kalaydjiev said.

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