International Saints

Twelve of men's soccer's student athletes are from foreign countries

Sept. 20, 2013

"For the first couple of months after a bad practice, I wanted to go home," junior Nathan Olukanmi said.

Olukanmi is describing his doubts after arriving in America from England. He found it difficult to adjust when he first arrived and had to battle through U.S. customs questioning process. His motivation was simple.

"I wanted to come here and play soccer for my school," added Olukanmi.

When coming to a new country such as the United States, it can take a lot of time to adjust to the American environment. Soccer is one of the most globalized sports in the world and more and more international players are coming to the United States to play.

Siena's men's soccer team is the perfect example of this. Twelve of the 32 members of the 2013 roster are international players. These 12 student athletes represent five foreign countries: Canada, England, Ecuador, Germany and Serbia, making men's soccer the most diverse team on campus.

After taking time to adjust to their environment, the international players on Siena's men's soccer team have found a support system through the help of their peers, teammates and coaches.

When student athletes first arrive they are thrust head first into American culture. To blend in with their classmates, they have to know what exactly Miley Cyrus was doing at the VMA's, when the next Drake album is coming out, as well as stay up-to-date with American politics and American football.

When it comes down to it, the foreigners have found the simple things make the adjustment easier. Senior James Beeston recalls tasting his first burger from Five Guys and learning how to navigate traffic in the Capital Region.

Head coach Cesar Markovic said before he brings an international player to Siena, he checks to make sure he is ready to be open and learn.

"It is about personality more than a cultural thing," Markovic said. "We have to see if they can adjust and be open to learning about other people and embracing the education."



It was not until Olukanmi had a chance to bond with his teammates and fellow countrymen Beeston and senior midfielder Matt Hemsley that he felt more comfortable in the United States.

"Beeston and Hemsley really helped me out and got me settled here," Olukanmi said. "After talking to them I was not homesick [anymore]."

Beeston, the team's captain, didn't find the adjustment from England to America quite as challenging.

"There are a lot of similarities in the English and American cultures because we both speak the same language," Beeston said. "So, it wasn't as tough an adjustment for me."

When Beeston got settled in and developed friendships he understood he was not here alone. He also found technology made the separation from his family more palpable.

"I Skype quite a bit with people back home to stay connected," he said. "That's made the distance between us a lot more manageable."

Markovic, who himself comes from a multi-ethnic background of Serbian and Ecuadorian roots, is in his first season as the head coach. He's brought in a stellar and diverse recruiting class, with three international players: attacking midfielder Edmundo Briones (Guayaquil, Ecuador); striker Luka Milcic (Belgrade, Serbia); and midfielder David Itoafa (New Brunswick, Canada).

"Siena has a beautiful campus, and I try to talk about the valuable education they could receive here and the community feel," Markovic said. "The biggest attraction is that it is one of the few places in the world where players can participate in athletics and go to school at the same time."

In many countries around the world, players who want to stay home often have to choose between training to play sports professionally and attending school. This is one of the reasons Beeston came to Siena.

"In England you cannot get a degree and play athletics," Beeston said. "It is either one or the other. So coming to Siena was a perfect opportunity where I could excel and do both."

The international students diversify and enrich the Siena campus. When international students become fully immersed in the Siena community, everyone is exposed to new ideas and points of view they otherwise would never have known.

It's during these times - the late nights ordering Chinese food, spending time with classmates and friends, playing video games, and enjoying the college atmosphere - when everybody wins.