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Mental Health and the International Athlete

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Where are you from and what sport do you play?

I’m from Nepal and Denmark. I was born in Denmark and raised in Nepal. I’m a swimmer and have swam for Nepal for around 10 years now. I moved to Thailand after high school for a gap year to train for the 2016 Olympic Games. 

What does Mental Health mean to you?

Mental health means so much to me. My career for Nepal was a great experience - being able to go participate in 4 World Championships - however, I faced a lot of political issues and was a female athlete in a patriarchal country. When I faced a great disappointment on not making the 2016 Olympics after setting aside years for the dream, I had lost everything I was for around 2 years. My mental health was in really bad shape. Moving to Pepperdine and rediscovering my love for the sport outside of the Olympics and Nepal put me back on track, but most importantly I sought help and support from a psychologist that got me back on my feet. Because of my experiences, Mental health is something I want to build my future career off of - helping athletes like myself.

What was your decision like when you decided to go to school in America? Was it hard? Scary? Exciting? 

I grew up in a K-12 international school, so going to the US for education made a lot of sense for the foundation I had built. I was scared because I had never visited the country before and my first college was William and Mary in Virginia and it was just not the place for me. I also wasn’t in the right headspace with my post Olympic disappointment to be in school. I left the US after my first year, swam in my third world champs that summer and moved to Australia in hope of some answers for myself. I couldn’t find it but I somehow found a way to Pepperdine and everything about it seemed absolutely perfect. So the second time around, I was finally really excited to build my life outside of swimming, while still having the opportunity to swim. 

How did the language barriers affect you when you moved here?

English is actually my first language, so communicating in the US was no problem for me at all. 

What is the hardest thing about being an international student athlete?

I think the hardest thing was being the only international athlete on my swim team. I absolutely loved my team and they made me feel like I had a family around me, but there are a lot of times when people don’t realize we are completely alone in a foreign country. For example, a lot of parents would come in for swim meets and events, or my teammates would go out to their parents for the weekend, and we just don’t have that option I think the hardest day for me was senior day when everyone’s moms and dads were there and took my teammates out to dinners, but mine couldn’t be. 

Was it easy adjusting to living in America? Did you make friends easily?

I actually think that the student athlete bubble is something really special. There’s no other system in the world that allows you to fully get your education and athletic training the way America does. My teammates and the student athlete community are so supportive and making friends was not an issue at all. That being said, there’s small things about the US culture that are so different to the European ideals I grew up on and so I had a hard time fully feeling at home. 

What do you do when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed? (Example: exercise, hang out with friends, do yoga, meditate)

I swim, but not training swimming. I just hop in and swim some laps. If I can’t get to a pool, I put on my earphones, play my favorite music and try to get outside and go for a walk. Just getting moving helps clear my head space. 

What advice do you have for other international  athletes who are thinking of coming to America for school? 

My advice is to say yes to it all, but make sure you find a program and a team that is invested in who you are as a person in and out of the pool or your sport. Don’t look for at a school for its name or for its ranking, look for a team and program that is genuinely interested in you as a person. It’s an experience of a lifetime that creates amazing opportunities for the future. I’ve met some of my greatest friends while being part of a world class program.

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