Whitman’s international athletes face unique pandemic challenges

Tucker Grinnan, Sports Reporter

Many international students were faced with a tough decision last semester: stay or make the complicated trip home. International student-athletes were not unique in this regard, but they have faced some unique challenges in the time since.

Kai Strawn, a junior on the men’s tennis team, chose to make the journey home to Japan in late summer. He based his decision on multiple factors, namely the COVID situation in the US and Whitman’s choice not to participate in any fall athletics competition. That said, he made the decision knowing that life at home was not going to be perfect.

“I went ahead and told myself, I’ll manage the time difference, I’ll manage my classes, I’ll still keep practicing here in Japan and try to stay as healthy and safe as possible away from the US, which is still not quite under control,” Strawn said.

Now, several months later, he feels like he has made the best of the situation. Importantly, he has been able to keep up a regular training schedule, playing five or six nights a week through a local tennis academy.

Illustration by Allyson Kim.

Carl Ye, a senior runner on the men’s cross country team, chose to stay at home as well. He acknowledges his parents played a large role in the decision, as they feared for his safety in a country where control of the virus was nowhere in sight, and knew the situation in his hometown of Qingdao, China was much better.

“[The virus] is under very good control. For example, from February to July all the GRE exams here were canceled, but beginning in October they started offering them again. When the public tests are back it means things are really good,” Ye said.

Ye is currently on a gap semester, he is taking online courses through the Budapest Semester in Mathematics program he was enrolled in the semester before and running consistently. However, he also has been struggling with the time difference affecting his class times, having to constantly stay up until two in the morning to attend class zoom sessions. As much as he wants to come back to campus this spring, he acknowledges that if a vaccine isn’t available he has trouble seeing himself making the trip.

Klaudi Kyjovska, a sophomore on the women’s soccer team, made the difficult decision to stay in Walla Walla over the summer and this semester as well. She credits her decision to the fact her flight was canceled and that she didn’t want to put her family at risk.

Despite being on campus she has faced a lot of uncertainty and adversity, consistently running into problems just trying to practice her sport.

“When the school announced we were going online in March my first thought was, am I even able to stay here, where am I supposed to go? Also, along the way, it’s been really difficult to find facilities where I can practice because the school was officially shut down. It was very difficult to figure out how I was going to do what I love,” Kyjovska said.

She acknowledges that the current situation is similarly very uncertain, with the number of reported Coronavirus cases ramping up around the country, but wants those around her to know they’re not alone.

“I understand that a lot of people are going through the same stuff and maybe if they hear me talking about it, maybe they’ll feel more comfortable like that’s ok everyone’s going through a similar situation,” Kyjovska said.