Concordia is ‘home away from home’ for international student athletes

March 13, 2017 - 4 minute read


Athletes enter the gym surrounded by cheer leaders and team members

What Australian student Anderson Clarke likes most about playing men’s basketball at Concordia University Irvine is the support system he has—on and off the court.

Berenice Samperio, a freshman from Mexico, has been at CUI only a few months, but she said it already feels like home. 

Clarke and Samperio are among the international students who make up 3.9 percent of CUI’s 4,000-plus student population, according to College Data.

The students, who come from 24 different countries, choose CUI for its academics, sports, size, and mission.

I chose Concordia because of the environment and support you get

“I chose Concordia because of the environment and support you get,” Samperio said. “The emphasis on sports and God suits my personality the most.”

Concordia is committed to the academic success and social development of its international students. According to President Kurt Krueger, the liberal arts university values the unique perspective students from around the world bring to the school.  

“Our international students quickly become part of the Concordia family as they interact with our diverse student community in our residence halls and lecture halls,” he said. “Our students and professors appreciate international students, and are also eager to learn from them as they share aspects of their own unique cultures.”

Samperio left Mexico to attend San Joaquin Memorial High School, a Catholic high school in Fresno, when she was in the 10th grade. As an only child, whose parents are still in Mexico, she is thankful her women’s water polo teammates are so welcoming and understanding.

“My team, we’re already like a family,” Samperio said. “It makes it easier for me to be away from home, but still feel like I’m at home.”

Samperio finds it rewarding to share her culture while learning about others.

I get to share my culture with my teammates and they welcome me into theirs.

“My most rewarding experience has been to get to know the culture a little bit better,” says the water polo player. “I get to share my culture with my teammates and they welcome me into theirs. They explain to me that our cultures are different, but we’re still willing to spend time with one another, and understand each other’s point of view.”

Clarke’s family moved to the United States in 2014, his senior year in high school. He’s now a junior at CUI majoring in communications with plans to become a college basketball coach. Clarke had planned to attend college in the U.S. even before his parents decided to move here. Clarke, who has three younger siblings, said it was nice to have everyone make the move at the same time.

Describing CUI as a “good fit” for him, Clarke said, “I love the program, the coaches here are awesome, it’s a great area, the weather in Southern California is similar to Australia, the people are nice, and it’s a small school.”

It’s that small school “family feel” that clicked with Clarke.

“Everyone seems to treat each other as a family,” he said. “That definitely clicked with me, especially having not been in the country long, everyone seemed very friendly, kind, and caring, that definitely made a huge difference coming here.”

Clarke said CUI’s basketball program is well-supported and the team is like a second family.

“Everyone seems to know everyone on the team and who’s supporting them. Some people live close to Concordia, but a lot of people are from out of state, and we have three international guys on the team.  It’s great being part of a team where everyone is so close. It’s such a supportive network from everyone on the team, to the coaches, to the fans, even to the professors, who are very understanding, which is always helpful,” he said.

As student-athletes, both Samperio and Clarke are looking forward to competing as part of a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II school. As such, CUI will take on larger colleges and universities than it did as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA.)  

Samperio never played water polo before coming to California. While in high school, a coach saw her swimming and encouraged her to try out for the team. She took the challenge and as she said, “water polo chose me.” As the goal keeper for CUI’s women’s water polo team, she’s looking forward to facing even stiffer competition as a DII school.

CUI is near the end of its three-year membership application process and anticipates full membership in 2017-18, which will make it the only NCAA DII school in Orange County.

When Clarke first visited CUI, the school was just beginning the process of becoming a DII school. He said it was exciting being on the front end of that.

“Being NCAA DII gives us more credibility because more people know NCAA compared to NAIA,” Clarke said. “We’ll be up against better players. It’ll take our team to the next level.”

Being NCAA DII gives us more credibility because more people know NCAA compared to NAIA

CUI has 20 varsity sports and about 450 student-athletes participate in its athletic program. Over the last five years, CUI has won five NAIA National Championship Titles in baseball, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s volleyball, and softball.

Clarke, who is a small forward or power forward, is proud of CUI’s men’s basketball record and is looking forward to building upon that success.

“Last year, we had a very successful first season in PacWest (Pacific West Conference) and ended up tying for first place in our league,” he said. “It was nice to come out and surprise some teams and do as well as we did. That was a venerable first step as part of the PacWest.”

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