Hampton University, a private historically black college and
university (HBCU) in Virginia, has a student body comprised of more than
5700 students coming from the United States and 35 territories and
nations. Currently, 15 % of the international students at Hampton
University are student athletes. According to Connell (2007), the number
of international student athletes is growing steadily on American
colleges and universities, because many athletic teams including soccer,
track and field, golf, tennis, field hockey, swimming, and volleyball
bring attracted stars from overseas. For example, Hampton
University's tennis team is dominated by international athletes.
For this project, the authors interviewed with international student
athletes from South Korea, Serbia, Canada, and Philippines regarding
their athletic, academic, and social experiences at Hampton University.
From the interviews four themes emerged: overcoming language barriers,
developing social relationships, prioritizing academics and athletics,
and accepting cultural differences.
Overcoming Language Barriers
Using English as a second language caused barriers academically,
athletically, and socially. The interviewees often struggled when
studying, communicating, and adjusting to a HBCU. Writing papers,
reading assigned materials, and presenting orally were challenging
because of the need to shift between the students' native languages
and English. Because of the language barrier, the students reported a
loss of confidence in their ability to successful complete their
undergraduate studies. Minami and Ovando (2004) explained the lack of
English proficiency was influenced and interpreted by the international
students' knowledge of their own native language and culture. The
respondents also had problems adjusting to the HBCU academic culture,
including instructors' pronunciations and teaching styles.
Moreover, the international student athletes had a hard time
understanding class lectures (Wan, 2001), which caused them to be
reluctant about participating in class discussions (Lin & Yi, 1997).
One of the international student athletes expressed that since attending
Hampton University, he joined a Christian church group because the
members always proofread his homework assignments. The international
student athletes expressed difficulty understanding academic and
athletic systems such administrative policies, course registration and
NCAA guidelines. Because of the lack of English proficiency, most of the
respondents experienced problems when working with the Registrar's
office or understanding NCAA regulations. Additionally, the
international student athletes experienced communication difficulties
that lead to team mistakes. Therefore, the first year for the
international student athletes was filled with frustration.
Unfortunately, Hampton University does not offer English as a second
Developing Social Relationships
Overall, these international student athletes had positive social
interaction with professors and other students at Hampton University.
The respondents stated professors were empathetic to students who used
English as a second language. A majority of professors allowed them to
use their dictionaries while taking tests or exams or extended homework
deadlines. Currently, Hampton University offers full scholarships to ten
international tennis players. It was noted that the increased number of
international student athletes created positive social experiences
within the group. This was because each one respected and accepted
differences of social and communication patterns when completing common
team goals. All international student athletes interviewed felt the
African American students at Hampton University were friendly and
welcoming. The international student athletes had more opportunities to
interact with African American athletes than the international students
on campus. Therefore, international student athletes are significantly
well adjusted to college or university environment (Ridinger &
Pastore, 2000). These findings contrast with previous studies'
findings that stated international students became targets of different
treatment including segregation, isolation, or being left-out from
domestic students from predominantly White institutions of higher
education (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000; Fisher & Hartmann,
1995; Gosset, Cuyjet, & Cockriel, 1998; Turner, 1994). These
international student athletes revealed that African American students
at HBCUs emphasize collectivism which subordinates their personal goals
to the goals of the collective (Triandis, Botempo, Villareal, Asai,
& Lucca, 1988). The authors found that having common team goals
helped to build positive social relationships or trust of African
Prioritizing Academics and Athletics
International student athletes have academic and athletic
responsibilities until they graduate from Hampton University. The
respondents strongly expressed the need for maintaining a certain GPA
(grade point average) and qualifying as a strong athlete. One concern
for the international student athletes was how to complete coursework on
time while traveling with the athletic team. In an effort to be fair to
all students, a majority of instructors are not allowing the
international student athletes to postpone exams or major assignments
due dates. This is even though assignments take extra time for
international student athletes. Unfortunately, the Department of
Athletics does not have a writing center or conversational practice lab
for the international student athletes; therefore, they are anxious
about balancing academic and athletic eligibility. One of the
international student athletes lost athletic eligibility, because he
could not use English well enough to enroll in the necessary classes.
The first year attending college proves to be tough for all
students, especially international student ones. Each of the
interviewees felt stressed and frustrated when adjusting to dormitory
culture, making friends, improving athletic performance, and maintaining
a certain GPA. They believed that the first year was the most important
period for establishing a high GPA. Yet, all of the international
student athletes struggled to pass general education courses, especially
those with a large class size. In the general education courses, when
the international student athletes had group assignments with African
Americans; they expressed the group was not highly motivated to complete
high quality presentation materials. The athletes believed the African
American students did not value the assignments because the courses were
not a part of a specific major. The interviewees felt that they had to
keep their fingers crossed to find good group partners. On the other
hand, the international student athletes did not have any issues
studying for and participating in their major courses. Having smaller
class sizes and classmates with the same major helped the international
Difficulties of Accepting Athletes' Cultural Differences These
international student athletes revealed that when the number of
international student athletes increased, other athletes could not
accept the new international student athletes' cultural differences
(practice habits and behavior pattern) during daily practice.
International student athletes in general had cultural concerns which
caused their stresses (Church, 1982; Luzzo, Henao, & Wilson, 1996;
Parr, Bradley, & Bingi, 1992; Ridinger & Pastore, 2000;
Zimmermann, 1995). For example, two Korean international student
athletes discussed that there is a type of age hierarchy between Korean
athletes. The older Koreans ordered the younger ones to bring them
drinks during breaks or pick up tennis balls during the practices. Other
international student athletes who observed this practice could not
fully understand and accept these cultural differences. Plus, these
Korean student athletes used these behavioral patterns with other
international student athletes. Cultural parallels among international
student athletes from various countries were identified. From the
responses of the international student athletes, they believed that
their coaches or the Department of Athletics should have some seminars
regarding cultural and social sensitivity. However, Hampton University
does not have the resources to support the international student
Findings in this study uncover a number of issues derived from the
analysis of the international student athletes' experiences at
Hampton University (HBCU). The following section presents
recommendations for helping international student athletes.
1. Lucas, Henze, and Donato (1990) identified three factors related
to successful outcomes for students who used English as a second
language. Hampton University should consider emphasizing: (a) diversity
education sessions for faculty regarding the effective academic
advisement of international student athletes, (b) academic counseling
programs that focus on reading, writing, and presenting for those who
use English as a second language, and (c) cultural adjustment seminars
and diversity education courses facilitated by faculty who understand
linguistics and cultures and are well received by the university
community. The faculty should also possess a strong commitment to
empowering international students to complete their undergraduate
2. Undergraduate programs need to consider the psychological
effects of academic programs on international student athletes. Allen
(1992) recommended four different components of international student
athletes' success in regard to social and psychological factors in
higher education. They were: undergraduate programs need to consider (a)
supportive relationships (e.g., conducting weekly or monthly discussions
of students' academic issues and concerns) with advisors and
advises; (b) social outlets and friends (e.g., conducting physical
activity events for all graduate students and faculty members); (c)
international student athletes' self-confidence and self-esteem
(e.g., recommending them for their participation to present their
research projects at some international and national conventions); and
(d) psychological comfort for a greater sense of belonging (e.g.,
conducting multicultural seminars).
3. Ladson-Billings (1994) suggested that teachers need to become
culturally sensitive. For example, academic advisors should learn brief
greetings in students' native languages or be cognizant of
important historical, political, and cultural factors that may impact
international student athletes' ability to have academic success
and maintain their cultural identities.
4. Undergraduate programs at Hampton University need to understand
that more diversity among life experiences and knowledge perspectives of
international student athletes can create an enriched intellectual
climate and enhance the education of all undergraduate students and
faculty members (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). The general education
curriculum at Hampton University should include one mandatory diversity
course. This opportunity may help students become more culturally
sensitive. Moreover, the international student athletes may be able to
present to the HBCU community regarding challenges and success in
academic and life experiences relative to diversity.
5. Faculty members should conduct group sessions for first year and
upperclassmen international student athletes to share ideas, feelings
and concerns. Undergraduate programs in Hampton University can offer
this opportunity for international student athletes during the first
year orientation. Upperclassmen can share experiences that may help to
develop first year international student athletes' confidence as
well as establish rapport.
6. The Department of Athletics should consider offering diversity
sessions for all team sports. The sessions would help athletes to become
more sensitive to cultural, social, and athletic performance differences
among international student athletes. In addition, coaches could meet
individually with each international student athlete to discuss her or
his athletic practice regimens and explain the university's
Very few studies exist to investigate the international student
athletes' academic and social experiences within the historically
black college and university setting. Although this study is limited
because of the small number of international student athletes attending
Hampton University, the seed data obtained will be used to design a
larger research project. The data can be used by the other colleges and
universities as well as the NCAA to develop and/or enhance programs that
will increase international students' graduation rates, as well as
improve student recruitment and retention practices. Furthermore,
Hampton University will receive recognition as being a place where
international students can excel and become dynamic leaders in their
respective careers and countries.
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By Takahiro Sato Ph.D. & Valerie Burge-Hall, M.A. Assistant
Professors, Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation
Takahiro Sato is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at
Hampton University. He also serves as the Physical Education Coordinator
and Student Teacher Evaluator for aspiring health and physical education
teachers. His areas of expertise are: multi-cultural physical education
and diversity in sport. He received his PhD in Adapted Physical
Education from The Ohio State University and his Masters of Science in
Adapted Physical Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He
has a strong passion for assisting all of his students and particularly
enjoys working with those from foreign countries.
Valerie Burge-Hall is an Assistant Professor of Health Education at
Hampton University. She serves as the Health Education Coordinator and
the Assessment Facilitator for the department. Her areas of expertise
are working with diverse populations, including the indigent and people
of color. She received her MA in Health Education from East Carolina
University. Her desire is to see each individual empowered to achieve