The life of an exchange student may seem daunting.
Leaving home, traveling to a new country, a new culture and having to take classes that use a different language in unfamiliar territory. Throw playing a sport on top of that and it may seem nearly impossible.
For Bellingham exchange students Gitte Gosvig (from Denmark) and Ignacio Gonzalez (from Chile), however, sports have been the key to feeling welcomed, accepted and enjoying their time in the United States.
Gosvig swims for the Red Raider girls’ team and Gonzalez plays on the boys’ tennis team.
“I think sport has given me a benefit. It has supported me a lot,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “If I wouldn’t be in tennis, I wouldn’t make all those friends. I got to know a lot of awesome people from tennis.”
Both athletes wholeheartedly agreed that sports have been extremely helpful in the transition process.
“It was actually pretty nice swimming. Just focus on swimming and something I knew,” Gosvig said in a phone interview.
Gosvig and Gonzalez both speak English fluently, which certainly helped their coaches, Bellingham tennis coach Steve Chronister admitted.
While tennis and swimming are individual sports, the team aspect is very important at the high-school level and neither had any problem fitting in.
“The team has been really united with me and picked me up,” Gonzalez said.
Gosvig also noted her teammates’ welcome arms.
“The girls on the swim team, they’ve been really sweet,” she said.
The differences in sports from Chile and Denmark are significant though, both athletes noted.
In Denmark, high schools don’t have swim teams. Instead, they swim for clubs. The same goes for Chile — there was no high school tennis teams where Gonzalez went to school.
Gonzalez had never even played a competitive match of tennis before coming to the U.S. He had only played against his private coach.
“It’s been a great experience to play with different kids that are my age,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been different.”
Another difference for Gonzalez is the magnitude of sports in the U.S. And the eating schedule, he joked.
“It’s interesting how important sports are here in America. The fact I’m being interviewed is just an honor,” Gonzalez said. “I think the thing I miss most here, though, is they only have breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Chile, we have tea time. It’s been the most difficult to adapt to the eating schedule. I’m hungry all of a sudden.”
While Gonzalez’s season ended in the district tournament, Gosvig still has time left with the Red Raiders. She has three state-qualifying times already and is set to help the Red Raiders at the district tournament in November.
“I’m just looking forward to the experience,” Gosvig said.
Both players will return home at the end of the school year but won’t soon forget Bellingham High.
“The school is really good with exchange students. They really appreciate exchange students,” Gonzalez said.
Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2238 or firstname.lastname@example.org.