College sports in the U.S. through the eyes of foreign students

Samantha Bartlett

When Colorado State University students from around the globe arrived for the spring semester in 2016, many were disappointed that they would be missing the American football season, thus not being able to see the CSU football team in action.

However, nothing could prepare them for the exhilarating atmosphere of a CSU basketball game, or the atmosphere surrounding college sports in the United States in general. For many incoming exchange students, it was their first time in the U.S., and each of them had their own expectations of what college life was like in the U.S.

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There are currently 41 students on the CSU campus who are a part of the Education Abroad program. They hail from Australia (15), Japan (2), New Zealand (5), UK (15), Netherlands (3), and Germany (1).

Some of them will tell you (myself included) that they came for the American college experience – copious amounts of partying and a minimal amount of studying. Where do college athletics fit into the picture?

For Talia Mabey, an Australian exchange student studying sports and exercise science, she believes that celebrating sport in its entirety is deeply ingrained in American culture.

“Although it is an honor in any nation, America truly embodies the illustrious celebrity status that comes with being a college athlete,” Mabey said. “The athletes at CSU and colleges nation-wide are given greater privileges than those in Australia. They are rewarded with their efforts of playing elite sports through the payment of college fees, scholarships and the chance to reach professional level sports.”

These privileges are not seen in Australia, where recreational activities triumph and being a famous college athlete is not so common.

“Australia in particular provides a recreational sporting environment rather than a competitive one,” Mabey said. “While there is certainly opportunity to play competitively, there are no university leagues across the nation. Within the short span of time I have been here, it is obvious the influence the students, teachers, families and alumni have on athletes. Personally being involved in the sports science field, this is something that heavily resides with me: being able to identify the cultural norms and expectations of the players.”

What shocked many exchange students were the amount of students who show their pride.

This is what Jess Foord, a music major from the UK, noticed when she attended her first CSU men’s hoops game at Moby Arena.

“Athletes are not afraid to wear their sports gear to campus, and likewise students are not afraid to wear CSU gear on any given day,” Foord said. “At home, it is a rarity to see students in university clothing, which I think is a real shame and shows a lack of support. Back in Manchester, the university is barely involved in sports, and the attendance at games is abysmal compared to here. Even though attendance was low when I attended a CSU ice hockey game, the atmosphere was still above and beyond what we have back home. I’m thrilled to be a Ram.”

Whether it’s a crowd of thousands at Moby Arena for the men’s basketball or much less at the men’s club ice hockey team at Edora Pool Ice Center, the novelty will never wear thin for some exchange students.

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However, the novelty is not as exciting in the mind of Michael Rietdijk, who hails from The Hague in South Holland. While he acknowledges the differences between his hometown and America, you probably won’t be seeing him in the student section at Moby.

“In Holland, college sports aren’t a big deal,” Rietdijk said. “The professional sports world is segregated from the college world, and there aren’t really any publically attended games. I went to a few basketball games when I first got here, but I’m usually studying or have other plans. I do appreciate that these games are available to attend here. However, it’s not really something that’s fundamental to my experience.”

Even from attending CSU, which is not considered a prominent school for athletics, it is evident that college sports in the U.S. are not just about the players and the team, but the community. Back in Australia, that excitement does not exist. The crowds in the U.S. are more supportive, larger in size and more engaged in the game.

In America, college sports are an integral part of college life and an experience many exchange students will never forget.

Collegian Sports Reporter Samantha Bartlett can be reached at sports@collegian.com.