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International Athletes Make Their Mark

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Members of the 2012-13 University of Minnesota Duluth women's hockey team include players from seven different countries. Pictured: (l-r) Tea Villila, Finland; Alivia Del Basso, Australia; Pernilla Winberg, Sweden; Aleksandra Vafina, Russia; Jamie Kenyon, United States; Jessica Wong, Canada; and Marie Delarbre, Germany.

Seven Countries Represented on UMD Women's Hockey Team

The University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) women’s hockey team has a growing number of international students on the team. The 2012-13 hockey team comprises of players from seven different countries: the U.S., Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, Canada, and for the first time, Australia. Over the years, UMD has recruited numerous international hockey players to enhance the accomplished team.

Recently, several of the international players shared their insights about studying and playing hockey at UMD.

Tea Villila
Villila’s dream of playing college hockey brought her to Duluth. Villila, a sophomore from Hyvinkaa, Finland, and a defenseman on the hockey team, is currently studying community health.

“It is kind of hard to know which credits or how my degree would be even considered in Finland, so it is frustrating to know what could be a good major. That's why I have decided to go with classes that I like studying, more than thinking what could be a good major or career for me after college,” she said.

Villila has enjoyed being an international student at UMD. “I am proud of being Finnish. It is lots of fun [here] because I am learning something new every day,” she said.

When she is finished playing hockey at UMD, Villila plans to return to Finland where she has seveal options. She could enter the work force, go back to school, or possibly continue to play hockey.

Alivia del Basso
Del Basso is from Perth, Australia, and she plays on the Australian National Team. "It was a dream of mine to play American college hockey," she said. "It felt like it was meant to be when I got an offer to play at one of the best international hockey program's in the U.S. The opportunity to play hockey at UMD came last minute compared to most players."

"America and and Australia are very similar in ways," said Del Basso. However, Minnesota's warm weather in summer and often extreme cold in winter are new to her. "The main difference between the countries would be the weather. Also everything is super-sized here." She enjoys her status as an international student. "I get to represent my country," she said. "The school and team really appreciate the diversity we all bring and because of this, we have great team chemistry and team culture!"

Pernilla Winberg
Winberg, a senior forward from Malmo, Sweden, studies community health at UMD. Winberg was attracted to Duluth because she heard good things from four friends who previously attended UMD. They told her about the "wonderful professors" at the school, but when she arrived, Winberg was surprised to find so many friendly people.

Winberg finds translating all of her homework to be a difficult aspect of being an international student. “UMD has been a great place for me because all the teachers have been very helpful and understanding. I have also been able to get extra help if it was needed. I have great classmates in all my classes if I ever had questions,” said Winberg.

After college, Winberg plans to return to Sweden and focus on hockey. She hopes to join the 2014 Swedish Women's Olympic Ice Hockey Team. After that, she wants to find a good job in sports or health.

Aleksandra Vafina
Vafina’s decision to leave Russia and come to Duluth was based on the opportunity to receive an education in the U.S. She also appreciated UMD's hockey program because of its international culture. Vafina is a forward for the UMD hockey team and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in education.

When Vafina first arrived in Duluth, she said she felt culture shock. "It was challenging to learn all the different social behaviors in the U.S.," she said. "It was also a challenge because of how fast people spoke." However, she said the "Minnesota nice" acceptance and "welcoming arms" of the Duluth community helped her transition.

Vafina has big dreams for herself when she leaves UMD. “I hope to play hockey for the Russian National Team in the Olympics next year but there is a lot work to get there," said Vafina. "I'd also like to continue playing hockey in North America and possibly continue my studies.”

Jessica Wong
Wong, a Canada native, considers Duluth to be her second home. She said that coming to the U.S. was not a huge change in atmosphere and it made the transition easier. She finds being an international student exciting, “Being an international student is cool, because there are not many people representing Nova Scotia around here,” Wong said.

Wong is a defenseman for the UMD hockey team and is currently studying health education with a concentration in community health. When Wong finishes school, she wants to continue playing hockey and get a job in the health education field.

Marie Delarbre
Delarbre, a freshman forward from Fuessen, Germany, was attracted to Duluth because of the campus and Lake Superior. The hockey team was a huge factor in her decision to come to Minnesota, and Delarbre finds Duluth to be a lot like her hometown.

Even though it's a comfortable place, Delarbre finds being so far away from home difficult at times, “Sometimes it is really hard. It takes more time for me to read and learn things in English. It's also hard... because I am a student athlete at the same time,” she explains.

After her time at UMD, Delarbre plans to continue to be active in her love for sports; she may even go into coaching.

Information about UMD's Women's Hockey Team.

UMD Those Who Can, Duluth

Written by Kelsey Cashmore, February


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