How Team Sports Bridge the Domestic-International Divide


Photo from Margaret Rosser.

Thana Schrock, Staff Writer

At Sandy Spring Friends School, sports are an important part of our community. Though we often focus on the scores and performance, we rarely stop to consider how shared interests in sports support international and domestic students integrating. It is no secret that integration has been a challenge in the past at SSFS but sports have helped bridge the divide and facilitate interaction and bonding between domestic and international students. I sat down with two international students, Sayaka Saito ‘20 and Jamshed Ashurov ‘18, who talked about how sports helped them make friends when they were beginning their first year at SSFS.

Sayaka Saito is a new international student at Sandy Spring and is living on dorm as a 7-day boarder. She is from Yamanashi, Japan but lived in Brisbane, Australia at a boarding school before coming to SSFS. There, she studied English for three-and-a-half years along with her sisters and cousins. Sayaka wanted to improve her English and saw an opportunity to come to Sandy Spring to do so. Since her brother had previously attended the school, she came to SSFS because her mother felt she was in a safe community and a better environment.

Commenting on her experience with integration, Sayaka mentions how “sports at Sandy Spring really help you to integrate into the community and make new friends.” Sayaka also says the friendly people and teachers helped make her feel very welcome upon arrival and the first day of school. As Sayaka is on dorm, she enjoys the dorm activities like open gym, practicing soccer during the weekends, and sports practices. Apart from playing soccer, she also participates in badminton and rock climbing. She says the best thing about sports at Sandy Spring is that they are team sports in which a group of people do what they love together.

She has adapted to Sandy Spring’s small community through sports this fall, getting to know the people who play on the Women’s Varsity Soccer Team. She has established connections with Head Coach Eduardo Polón and teammates like her good friend, Maya Long ‘20. Speaking about the emphasis placed on team bonding, Sayaka described how the “Varsity team is very close. Everyone involves you and welcomes you into the team.”

Sports at Sandy Spring are enjoyable for her and something she wants to continue in her future here. “Sports [are] a part of my life and I really enjoy doing sports at the end of the day,” she says. “I love sports and it’s good exercise for your body.” She describes her commitment to soccer as “a lot of pressure because soccer is based on teamwork, not just yourself. You have to think about the team.” Sayaka recalls her fondest memory on the soccer team, saying how “in one game, I scored twice. This is my best memory. My teammates told me ‘great job’ and gave me high fives. It was a great feeling.”

The bonding during practices and games has really helped her integrate into the community and make new friends. “At preseason, I met most of the girls who would be on the team and it helped me with talking and introducing myself to people at school because I became more confident,” says Sayaka. “During the school day many people said hi to me and it helped me make more friends.”

Sayaka says that, the team sport dynamic translates from the field to school, with members of the team talking to each other during the day and cheering each other on. On and off the field, her teammates motivate her to be her best. Though Sayaka came to SSFS worried about her English and her accent, her experiences on the Women’s Varsity Soccer team have helped her feel like a part of the greater community.

Jamshed Ashurov is another international student who participates in SSFS athletics. Jamshed is from Tajikistan and is here for his second year at Sandy Spring as a 7-day boarder. He enjoys the accepting environment of the school and found that connecting with other international students made it easier for him to integrate into the school culture. Jamshed is on the Men’s Varsity Soccer team and has eleven years of soccer-playing experience. While on dorm, he practices with his friends on the weekend during the open gym period.

Jamshed believes sports definitely help you integrate more and more easily into the community. “Whenever you play with your teammates, you naturally get to know them. When you win, victory always connects people and you get closer.” He does not have much free time so he is very disciplined and always has to be on top of everything. Since sports practices and games happen after school, he uses soccer as a time to relax mentally and maintain health physically. As a senior, his day is normally very rigorous with the added responsibility of college applications, but sports offer him a time to have fun. Before games he and his teammates bond by being as loud as possible. He says it gives him “charisma and confidence” while loosening up. For Jamshed, sports are also a huge responsibility. “You have to sacrifice your skills and responsibility for the team.” Men’s Varsity Soccer coach Jeff Rohrman coached at the University of Maryland, a D1 school for soccer, and pushes him and the team to work hard.

Sports helped Ashurov integrate into the SSFS community even before school started. Preseason starts in August and serves as an opportunity to meet the coach, staff, and teammates. Sports brought him and his teammates closer through their common desire to play well in games and to win the championship. He believes that many international students have more easily integrated with domestic students through sports, especially through preseason, which “is an opportunity to meet new friends.” Ashurov has played for the team for almost two years and has created lasting friendships with a number of his teammates, both domestic and international.