SJU Athletics had 44 international student athletes entering last summer from different countries around the world. They came here wanting to pursue a high-level degree while playing their sport at an NCAA Division I university. We sat down with three international student athletes to hear about their experience living in a different country, the cultural differences they encounter, and the benefits and challenges of being a student athlete here at St. Joe’s!

Robin Bleekemolen ’23 from the Netherlands

Robin Bleekemolen ’23 finished her third season as the goalkeeper on the St. Joe’s field hockey team after the season. Bleekemolen is originally from Amsterdam in the Netherlands, which is an eight hour flight to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Coming from a different country, Bleekemolen encountered some cultural differences. “The cultural difference was hard to adjust to and sometimes still is. Where I’m from in the Netherlands we are very direct. Here, people are a lot more sensitive,” Bleekemolen said. “I still find it hard at times.”

Bleekemolen also mentions the mental health challenges that many student athletes face. “I think a big big thing is mental health right now,” Bleekemolen said. “It is definitely hard to juggle a social life, school work, and still have some time for yourself. It gets a lot at times.”

Photo Credits @ Mia Messina // Robin Bleekemolen ’23

Lars Henrik Haavie ’25 from Norway

Lars Henrik Haavie ’25 is currently living 3753 miles away from his hometown Sandefjord in Norway. Haavie finished his first season for the St. Joe’s men’s soccer team last fall and earned a spot on the Atlantic 10 all-rookie team.

Haavie did not think the adjustment to speaking English every day as a non-native speaker was that hard. “The only adjustment was really classroom English and new terminology and stuff like that, and then I think you catch up on it in the span of time,” Haavie said. Haavie admits that time management can be challenging, but the University offers many resources. “You get so much help and so many resources here, so you can’t really blame that for not performing,” Haavie said.

Photo Credits @ Mia Messina // Lars Henrik Haavie ’25

Julia Nyström ’25 from Sweden

Julia Nyström ’25 is from Lund in Sweden and is a part of St. Joe’s women’s basketball team. After her first season here at Hawk Hill, Nyström was also awarded a spot on the Atlantic 10 all-rookie basketball team.

Nyström has played basketball since she was nine years old and it has always been a dream for her to play the sport in the U.S. “I picked St. Joe’s because I got a great feeling talking to the coaches and players on the team,” Nyström said. She also found that time management to be a big challenge for student-athletes. “My first semester was pretty hard because, on top of figuring out how to balance everything, I was still adjusting to being in a new country and culture,” Nyström said.

Photo Credits @ Mia Messina // Julia Nyström ’25