Row2k, una delle principali fonti internazionali di notizie sul mondo del Canottaggio, in una delle sue ultime interviste ha dedicato ampio spazio alla giovane azzurrina della Sisport Fiat Laura Basadonna, ormai da qualche anno studentessa della Clemson University in South Carolina, esempio perfetto di come sia possibile conciliare l’eccellenza nello studio con una carriera sportiva di primo piano, cui si aggiungono i preziosi valori di un’intensa esperienza di vita all’estero.
For many college freshman, this fall marks the first time they have ever spent an extended amount of time away from home. It is a scary/exciting proposition as the safety net of their parents becomes less and less secure. Now take that scenario, and instead of attending a college a few hours from home, the student travels half way across the world to a school where their primary language isn’t spoken. International athletes have become a major factor in collegiate rowing over the past decade. According to the NCAA, over the past ten years, participation by international athletes in every sport has increased more than 1000%. This fact was very evident walking around Junior Worlds this summer where numerous college coaches were battling for the best athletes from all over the world.
Row2k sat down with Laura Basadonna, who is now entering her senior season at Clemson University. Laura is a very accomplished Italian rower who traveled to the US her freshman year to row at Clemson. Four years later, row2k wanted to gain a little perspective on her journey as a foreign student athlete in the US.
Row2k: Can you tell me a little about your rowing career before college?
Laura: I started rowing when I was 10. I went to my first World Championship in 2007 where I finished in fifth place in Beijing. I have been part of the Italian national team since then. We got second in 2008 in Linz, Austria, where I got to race again this past summer. I raced in a pair in 2009 and we got fourth. That’s when I met Robbie Tenenbaum (Clemson Rowing’s Head Coach) and he recruited me. I have always rowed with the same club in high school (in Italy we don’t have student-athletes; you just go to different clubs).
Row2k: During the recruiting process, did you seek out an American coach or was a coach trying to recruit you to row in the US?
Laura: Robbie is the first American coach I talked to. I guess after that, every coach knows you are interested, so I started talking to many other coaches. Clemson has always been the first option though.
Row2k: Did you visit Clemson or any other university before you accepted your scholarship?
Laura: No I didn’t. I didn’t have time to. My last year of high school was too busy with rowing and with getting a good grade on my SAT and getting used to the idea of leaving.
Row2k: Would you recommend that international students visit their school in person before they accept a scholarship?
Laura: I got lucky with Clemson. I liked it from day 1. Let’s be honest, Clemson’s campus is awesome. If you don’t like the campus, maybe it’s better to visit before you get there and you are “stuck” for a year. Visiting the school is probably a good idea.
Row2k: Your very first week in Clemson, were you scared, nervous, excited, or indifferent?
Laura: I think I will never forget the day I woke up to come to Clemson. I was at the beach with my parents. When my mum woke me up, I realized I was leaving for Clemson and I thought “Why in the world I decided to go to the other side of the world, by myself, and I don’t even speak English????” I was beyond scared, but I got on my flight. After a bunch of tears and sad goodbyes, I started getting excited. Was I lying to myself? Yes. As I said, I was beyond scared, but I had made a decision and I couldn’t change my mind. My first week I was a mix of scared and excited. Nervous, homesick, happy, excited. Never indifferent though.
Row2k: I know you spoke English before you began school however were classes a challenge at first because English isn’t your first language?
Laura: Classes were the least challenging thing of all. In class you pretty much always know what the professor is talking about: if it’s geology, econ, math, or English. Classes weren’t as challenging as normal life. When I went to lunch with my roommates or with the team, I couldn’t follow any conversations because it was so hard understanding what the topic was! It got much better with time. After one month I could pretty much understand everything, and after two months it was easier to get people to understand me.
Row2k: What do you wish you had known as an international athlete before you began school in the US?
Laura: As an athlete, I would have liked to know that there are many different ways to train and not only the Italian way. As a college student, that life in an American college is much different than in Italy. You must be much more responsible and maybe being ready for that would have helped. In general, being more aware of lifestyles and different culture would have helped.
Row2k: You raced for Italy at U23s and Senior Worlds this summer. Did you face any challenges meeting your responsibilities for your country and for Clemson? For example, the World Championships took place during the start of the school year.
Laura: Coming back after two weeks of school is not easy. It’s the third time I have come back later in the fall (last year for Europeans, and two years ago for Words in Bled, Slovenia). I have to say that adjusting has been much easier. Maybe I got lucky because I had more time before my first test and I am only taking 13 hours, but it’s definitely a challenge you have to be ready for. The other face of the medal [other side of the coin] is that when I was in Korea, class was starting here and I had to keep up with online quizzes, professors, and assignments. It was been stressful in Korea and when I came back here. My professors have been really understanding though (one of them offered to re-teach me the first two weeks of class again!) and Robbie let me get some time off rowing both to recover from the entire summer of rowing and especially to catch up with all my classes.
Row2k: If you had not decided to attend college in the US, what would you be doing right now?
Laura: I would definitely be in college studying some kind of business. I don’t know what I would have done without rowing. I cannot think of my life without rowing. It’s hard after you have done it for 11 years. I have to say that when I came here my freshman year, I was pretty burned out with rowing. The year hadn’t gone well, my coach for the last 5 years had passed away and I didn’t have a pair partner to work out with. I came here hoping things would get better and they did. I like to think that the moment would have passed even if I didn’t come to Clemson, but I don’t know. What I know is that I can thank this team for making me love rowing the way I have always done.
Row2k: What is the best part about going to school in the US and what is the worst?
Laura: The best part is the feeling of freedom and accomplishment I get when I realize I have made it to my senior year and I have actually learned English (sorta). I have come here by myself, without knowing anybody, and I feel more at home here than I do in Italy sometimes. I have done exactly what I wanted to do, but I thought I was too scared to go for it. The worst part is leaving: every time I get on a flight to go back home or to come back here I would spend 5 hours crying. I always love going back, but it makes me sad thinking what I am leaving behind my friends, family, and routine. Now realizing that as a senior, I actually have to decide where I want to be, Italy or the US. That is the scariest part. I know I will love where I am going be because that’s who I am. Somehow I always make it work. However, I have to make a decision and it’s probably going to be one of the hardest decisions of my life, even harder than deciding to come here.
Row2k: Finally, do you have any advice for the international athletes who just started their collegiate career this fall?
Laura: Have fun and do the craziest things. Jump off the highway bridge if your roommates break into your room on a Friday night asking you to do it with them. (This is a metaphor not a recommendation) Go wherever they want to bring you, never let an opportunity pass you by. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help: you will always find at least one person willing to help you. Skype with your family: they are the ones you are going to miss the most. But try to live your life in the US and not your life at home: it just makes things harder. Make new friends because they are going to be your family when you need one. Be excited for this new experience because in a few years when you look back, you will feel like a fool if you hadn’t caught it at the right moment.
Row2k: Thank you and good luck this season!