It was a brisk morning in Stockholm, Sweden when William Von Heland boarded the plane to make his journey to Castleton University with his prized soccer cleats in his backpack.
After flying into Boston, Von Heland looked out the window to see a small, eight-passenger airplane that would be his ride to Rutland. It was tiny, like nothing he’d ever been in, and minutes later he was thankful that it left the ground.
Von Heland was nervous about his new life, about the plane, about everything. Then he heard a couple guys talking in Swedish behind him. He turned around, started chatting with them, and learned they were Simon and Gustav – from the Castleton hockey team.
From that moment Von Heland knew he was going to like his new home at Castleton University.
Castleton is now the home to 54 international students from 17 different countries. Even though it is still early in the year, their impact is being seen on the athletic fields, in the classroom and socially around campus.
Many international students are hitting the ground running with academics and sports, but Fabio Klay, of Switzerland, literally hit the ground hard.
On just his first night on campus, Klay went to bed early exhausted from his first day. He soon found himself on the floor in the middle of the night after he rolled off his bed.
“I just couldn’t help falling off the bed. Back home I have a much larger bed so when I turned over I expect there to be a little more bed. I guess that wasn’t the case and I hit the floor pretty hard,” the hockey player said with a smile on his face.
International students are having a big impact on several sports teams across campus and coaches are taking notice.
“Fundamentally, European skiers are near perfect. They are solid and look slower because they are so smooth on the slopes. Smoother means faster,” said ski coach Chris Eder.
The women’s ski team will now have three international skiers, including returner Josefine Carlsson.
“My strength in skiing is slalom because I’m strong and not afraid of the fast pace with the quick turns. I also love that there is always action in a slalom course. You have to be 100 percent in the moment. If your mind is somewhere else, you won’t make it through the course,” Carlsson said excitedly.
Although international students are making an impact when it comes to wins and losses, their presence also changes the culture and diversity of the team, athletes and coaches say. American athletes, because of their foreign teammates, are getting a much more diverse experience on and off the field.
“You may only play with the international students for a couple of years, but in the end you will be lifelong friends,” Eder Said.
Coordinator of International Student Services Deborah Singiser is excited to see how the international students will impact the university in all aspects of student life.
“My hope is international students on campus can spark an interest in an American students’ mind. That all of a sudden just through conversation, a student that has never left the state of Vermont will see the world through a different lens,” Singiser said.
Talking to students like Kinyenje Ngigi from Kenya shows you how different cultures are.
Ngigi said so far he really is enjoying his experience at Castleton University. He said he is looking forward to rugby season and really enjoys the challenges in the classroom.
However, he has faced some other less-fun challenges.
“The food is so much different. I am use to food that has a lot more taste with various spices,” Ngigi said as he brought his fingers up toward his mouth.
He also said there have been some social adjustments – but he’s working on them.
“Women south of the equator are generally warmer, much easier to talk to and easier going. I find it harder up in the north to talk with women,” Ngigi said with a smirk.
Over the next couple years Castleton University hopes that at least 5 percent of the student body will be international, Singiser said.
“All it takes is for one of our Swedish students to like a link on a Castleton page and then all of their Swedish friends back home will be reading about Castleton University,” said Ben Stockwell, director of Athletic Communications.