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International Student Athletes
International Student Athletes Complement Panther Culture
The international student body is a cornerstone of Plymouth State’s community and diversity, and student-athletes from many nations fill important team roles. Their impact, however, goes much deeper than just putting points on the board.

Director of Athletics Kim Bownes ’07G hails from Canada and provides a welcoming model for international students considering northern New England. Newcomers quickly learn that their PSU coaches and classmates are eager to help them find their place on campus.

“Plymouth State Athletics is welcoming of all its student athletes, but I’m particularly proud of the work our coaches do to help international student-athletes with their transition to the states,” says Bownes. “Having brand new experiences as a young adult every day can be a challenge, particularly for students with English as a second or third language, but I believe our staff does an incredible job helping everyone to feel like they belong.”

Milian Eklund ’23 of Sweden
Milian Eklund ’23 of Sweden. (on right)
“International student athletes teach our community about their culture while learning about US culture as well,” adds Assistant Director of Athletics Lauren Lavigne ’94, ’96G, who helps recruit Panthers from abroad. “It gives everyone an opportunity to expand their views of the world.”

Sharing Traditions
Men’s Soccer Head Coach Rob Wright notes that he has become so engrossed in American culture that he no longer refers to soccer, the “beautiful game,” as football, as he did back in his native England.

“I don’t dominate the program’s culture,” says Wright. “Instead, it mostly comes from its history and the people in it.”

Milian Eklund ’23 came from Sweden to experience America’s more competitive environment and to benefit from PSU athletics’ ample equipment and resources. “Everything here is just bigger and better,” adds teammate Sondre Asheim ’25 of Norway.

Both Scandinavians agree that they find it easy to become familiar with American customs. “PSU students love to share their traditions like Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day with international students,” says Asheim.

Sondre Asheim ’25 of Norway

Sondre Asheim ’25 of Norway. (number 22)

Lukas Holmqvist ’23 of Sweden

Lukas Holmqvist ’23 of Sweden.

Imalay Rodriguez Martinez ’25 from Puerto Rico.
Above: Imalay Rodriguez Martinez ’25 from Puerto Rico.
Zoe Killisch ’22 of Austria

Above: Zoe Killisch ’22 of Austria.
Left: Imalay Rodriguez Martinez ’25 from Puerto Rico.
Below: Franny MacDonald ’24 of Canada.

Franny MacDonald ’24 of Canada
Food: The Universal Language
Men’s Ice Hockey Head Coach Craig Russell has many international student athletes in his program whose impact has helped make the team a regular league leader. Along with their work ethic and grit, Russell appreciates their cultural contributions.

“Soccer has become bigger among PSU hockey players,” says Russell. “Some of them will get up to watch the Premier League or Champions League at 4:00 a.m. together.” Russell has also taken to Swedes’ love of fika, their beloved coffee break ritual.

Lukas Holmqvist ’23 explains. “Fika is when you have a cup of coffee and something to eat like a pastry and just sit there and have a good time.” At home in Sweden, Lukas has two work fikas daily and has helped make it a PSU hockey tradition. “We have a fika almost every day,” says Holmquist’s team- and roommate, Ohio native Ted Austin ’23.

Women’s Ice Hockey Assistant Coach Evan Turek touched on the experiences of Austrian student athlete Zoe Killisch ’22. “We all came into the locker room and the women wrote on the white board, ‘Happy Austrian Independence Day’ for Zoe to celebrate that for her,” he recalls. Turek wants to add poutine, the quintessential Quebecois blend of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy, as a bus ride snack for his Canadian student athletes next season.

Women’s Volleyball Head Coach Joan Forge has learned about Puerto Rican culture via Imalay Rodriguez Martinez ’25. “When we say, ‘I go,’ or ‘I got it,’ she will say similar things in Spanish, so the language on the court is a little different but that makes it fun,” says Forge. “The other thing that is different is I do not allow my athletes to argue with officials, but Ima found this difficult because she says they argue everything in Puerto Rico.”

Along with learning New England expressions, Imalay has bonded with teammates over food. “On Saturday home games, the parents make food for us after our games and it’s all different types,” she says. “My mom has brought different pastas and other foods to share with the team and families as well.”

Saying is Believing
Katie Townsend ’22 has learned about Canadian culture through everyday conversation with Women’s Ski Team colleagues. “I take on a lot of Canadian phrases that they use a bunch from Franny MacDonald ’24,” says Townsend. “Instead of saying ‘What?’ as a question they say ‘Pardon?’” MacDonald, from British Columbia and one of two international student athletes to represent PSU’s ski program at the National Collegiate Skiing Championships this winter, adds that she pronounces “been” as “bean.”

From language, to customs, to food, international student athletes impact the University community by expanding its understanding of the world. In turn, they gain the life-changing experiences of studying at Plymouth State while soaking up Americana. ■ Ryan Moyer ’24

Photos courtesy of Plymouth State Athletics.