By Chris Eder, Alpine Ski Coach
I had a great college experience. I had great professors, competed on the varsity alpine ski team, and was involved with student government. Most importantly, I made many life-long friendships. My college experience would not have been the same if it were not for a particular group of students. This group of students I am referring to are international students. To me, the international students brought so much to my overall college experience. Many of my college friends were international students. I thought it was so cool to hang out with students from countries like Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Jamaica, Kenya, and Ireland. These students added so much to classroom discussions and everyday life on campus. I was able to learn so much about different cultures. I was even able to learn a few foreign words and phrases. I know that if I were to visit a particular country, chances are I will probably have a place to stay (or at least a tour guide!). In fact, I actually stayed at a bed and breakfast owned by the grandmother of an international student-friend when I traveled to Ireland after graduating from college. These types of experiences, connections, and lifelong friendships are things that I hope our Castleton University students will have.
I love that Castleton has grown its international population! In particular, it is neat to see international students coming to Castleton to participate in varsity athletics. Currently, the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams (which I coach), men’s soccer, men’s basketball, men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s ice hockey teams all have rosters that include international student-athletes. Currently, the men’s alpine ski team has two international student-athletes from Sweden and Croatia on the roster, while the women’s team has one skier from Sweden. The incoming class for the fall of 2017 includes one male from Austria and two from Sweden. The women will be adding one more Swede. However, we may not be done, as we are waiting on decisions from four other international skiers.
When I started coaching the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams at Castleton University in August of 2003, one of the first things I noticed was that there was a lack of international flavor on campus. I felt as if our students were missing out on something special. The men’s and women’s ice hockey teams had some Canadian student-athletes, so that was a start. However, I felt as if we needed more. I was determined to recruit some international student-athletes for the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams and give our domestic students the type of international exposure that I had when I was in college.
Ski racing is a popular sport in European countries like Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, etc., so naturally, there are some very good ski racers abroad. This alone, should be enough of a reason for a coach to want to recruit international ski racers, but there are plenty of very good ski racers in the United States. A focus in trying to attract international ski racers is to bring something else to the team. I want the American student-athletes on the alpine ski team to have the same experiences I had. Sure, having the international talent is a big plus and helps us win races, but there is more. They bring depth and cultural diversity that enhances the learning environment of every student-athlete.
So far, my vision is coming true. Our current international student-athletes have been a major asset to the success of our men’s and women’s alpine ski teams. In addition, I am seeing many positives off the slopes, as they add to the learning environment in and out of the classroom. I have seen relationships built between international students and American students that will last a lifetime. It makes me so happy to see our American student-athletes taking international student-athletes home during breaks. It has also been cool to see our American student-athletes visiting our international student-athletes. Last summer, two of our American student-athletes visited two international student-athletes in their home country of Sweden! Those two American students may not have had the chance to visit Sweden (or even considered it!) if it had not been for that connection. My hope is that this continues as we grow our international population. Not just with student-athletes, but for the campus community as a whole.
Sitting alongside and learning from international students in the classroom, various social settings, or even on a chairlift ride at Killington Ski Resort is part of my college education that I hope our Castleton University students have a chance to experience.