For seniors Christiana Gerostergiou and Tania Uluheua, and grad student Wilton Quintero, being a part of Vanguard athletics has enabled them to both play their sport, and assimilate to American culture, which they recognize as quite distinct from their own.
Gerostergiou moved from Thessaloniki, Greece, to Maine for college in 2014 after several summers playing for the Greek national team. Her teammate, Uluheau, relocated from Auckland, New Zealand to Arizona in 2013 before transferring to Vanguard. Soccer player and graduate program student Wilton Quintero was raised in Los Angeles to strong Urauguayan family but relocated to Uruguay in 2016 to play with the Wanderers Futbol Club.
The athletes each noticed similar differences from American culture and their personal cultures back home. For Uluheua and Gerostergiou, moving to America a huge contrast in behavior, language and food. Gerostergiou, who speaks Greek and some French, faced challenges while adjusting to English.
“I would think in Greek but now my brain has changed, and I think in English now. I find myself not being able to write Greek essays but only English essays,” Gerostergiou said.
The individualistic behavior rooted in the American culture were also a significant contrast that each athlete had noticed.
“One difference is in students. [In Greece] we would cooperate more and help each other out, here it is more like individualistic and more like competition…all about who does better it first and who does it better,” Gerostergiou said.
The difference lay not only in academics, but also in sports, according to Uluheua.
“The biggest thing difference for me in basketball was noticing that everyone worries about their own…and obviously it is a team sport and it requires team effort, but you have to worry about yourself before anything,” Uluheua said.
In South America, Quintero’s experience transformed his perspective on his culture and life. He describes his first moments in Uruguay as a homecoming celebration that connecting his life together.
“Moving there was probably one of the happiest moments of my life…Uruguayans value some things very differently as opposed to Americans…people are content with a lot less,” Quintero said.
Despite the cultural connections Quintero felt, he experienced many tensions competing with other Uruguayan athletes who viewed the game as their source of life and potential profession.
“I encountered a lot of opposition, they would try to intimidate me because I am a foreigner and [because] they are just trying for their spot… [It was] hard to go up against [that] because you have to match that intensity and passion,” Quintero said.
Quintero believes much of the opposition came from uncertainty of players’ future if their soccer dreams were not successful. This encounter caused him to have a deeper appreciation for the luxury of being both an athlete and college student.
“Playing pro [in South America] is usually a make it or break it for you. If you decide soccer is what you want to do, you must commit your all to it,” Quintero said.
The athletes appreciate their diverse international playing experiences that have enabled them each to grow as individuals and as athletes.
“As a basketball player, being in America has improved my game so much. I feel like my basketball IQ has increased so much and I can adapt to new team styles,” Uluheua said.
Many of the international teams they have played with are temporary, some lasting only a month. As college athletes, they have been able build a strong family-oriented foundation with their team.
Playing internationally has provided these athletes with great opportunities such as travelling to several countries throughout South America and the United States, and meeting popular athletes from their sport including American professional soccer player, Landon Donovan, and retired Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant.
While both Gerostergiou and Uluheua plan to return to their home countries, they will continue playing basketball with other teams. Quintero hopes to move to Uruguay to play for another soccer team in the future.