International Student-Athletes Find Home at GW and in Nation's Capital
April 2, 2012
Located in the cultural crossroads of Washington, the George Washington University boasts a uniquely diverse and international student body. According to the U.S. News and World Report's 2012 Best Colleges Rankings, GW's seven percent international student body ranks in the Top 40 among national universities.
That worldwide flavor translates to GW's athletics programs as well, where 29 international student-athletes compete on a number of the Colonials' 22 varsity athletics teams. The 29 international student-athletes is the most of any Atlantic 10 institution save for Canadian-heavy St. Bonaventure (31). The Colonials are represented by every continent except Antarctica with 11 Europeans, eight non-U.S. North Americans, three South Americans, three Asians, one African and one Australian.
Not only does this bevy of international student-athletes enhance the university's academic profile, it has also been a recipe for success for GW's athletics teams.
GW has long been a haven for international student-athletes, most notably for the men's basketball program where former stars such as the late Yinka Dare, Alexander Koul ('98) and current Colonials men's basketball radio analyst Yegor Mescheriakov ('99) guided the Colonials to five NCAA Tournament appearances during the 1990s, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu ('06) helped GW to NCAA trips in 2005 and 2006.
Mescheriakov, who starred on NCAA Tournament teams along with fellow Belarusian Koul in 1996 and 1998, fondly recalls his time in Foggy Bottom. "It was a huge confidence boost for all of us and we never looked back, piling up successful seasons and enjoying the NCAA basketball experience to the fullest. I know that my life was forever changed for the better because of that experience," said Mescheriakov.
The women's basketball team has enjoyed its own international pipeline as well with Spaniards Noelia Gomez ('99), Elisa Aguilar ('00) and Anna Montanana ('05) sprinkled among the program's seven All-Americans.
"The success student-athletes from outside the United States have had in our men's basketball program in the past, along with our affiliation in the very strong A-10 Conference, are tremendous selling points in our international recruiting efforts," said Mike Lonergan, head coach of the GW men's basketball team. "Not only do international students come here for the extraordinary education they will receive, the international spirit of our campus and city makes them feel comfortable socially as well."
The GW men's basketball program currently has two international players on its roster - Canadian junior Dwayne Smith and sophomore Nemanja Mikic - and is set to add two more next season with National Letter of Intent signees Patricio Garino and Kyprianos 'Paris' Maragkos.
"Overall, GW is a great place for me because it enables me to take my basketball skills to the next level while earning a degree from a great university in a city full of opportunities," said Mikic, a native of Serbia who was named to the A-10 All-Academic Team for men's basketball earlier this month.
Isabella Escobar, a sophomore from Guatemala on GW's women's tennis team, agrees with Mikic.
"I chose GW because it is very well known for its outstanding international business program," said Escobar. "Besides the academics and the great tennis program, I was drawn to GW by its location in Washington, D.C., which provides me with opportunities that no other place could have offered."
Men's tennis head coach Greg Munoz and his mostly foreign roster - six of his eight players hail from overseas and another, freshman Mike Kachkar, holds dual citizenship between the U.S. and Canada - have become a juggernaut in the Atlantic 10 Conference, winning last year's tournament title to advance to its first-ever NCAA Tournament and earning the A-10 Championship's No. 1 seed for four consecutive years.
"I have been fortunate," related Munoz. "The international players I bring in not only want to strengthen their tennis skills, but also want to succeed academically."
Francisco Dias, a heralded freshmen member of Munoz's tennis team, also feels fortunate to find himself where he is today.
"I came to the U.S. because it allowed me to continue pursuing my goals as a tennis player while earning a degree that will be recognized anywhere in the world," said Dias. "Where I come from in Portugal, there are no varsity sports and there is no college dorm experience. GW allows me to learn a lot about myself as I become a more complete citizen."
Hong Kong-born golf senior Martin Liu also spoke of the unique collegiate experience in America. "I came to GW because the U.S. provides a system in which I can continue my education and pursue golf at the highest competitive level, it offers a great balance," said Liu.
GW's most satisfied and successful international student-athletes are not only found on the men's tennis and basketball teams though. Phillip Graeter, a junior men's swimming co-captain and last year's team MVP, was born and raised in Germany. After transferring to GW from the University of New Orleans, Graeter says he hasn't looked back.
"D.C. is great because it allows you to live in a big city, while still giving you the feeling that it is a small one," said Graeter. "I have made so many great friends for life and I was even able to become close with my professors and fellow systems engineers. I love the city - it is a fun place to be, and the internship and work possibilities in the D.C. area are endless."
Freshman Janica Lee, a member of the women's swimming team, followed in her sister's footsteps from Mississauga, Ontario to competitive swimming at an American university.
"My older sister was a swimmer at Harvard, and my family and I would often go to watch her swim meets. I was amazed at the energy and commitment at the collegiate level in the U.S., and ever since then I was sold," said Lee.
Lee's teammate Sameera Al Bitar, who represented Bahrain in both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, also followed family to study in the States. "Since a young age, I knew I was going to study in the U.S. because both my parents have gone to universities here and have encouraged me to study abroad because they've had such a great experience."
As GW continues to strive for excellence in athletics, it will continue to rely on not only the country's best and brightest, but search worldwide for the next Colonials.
"Washington, D.C., has to be the most educated and culturally diverse city in the United States," said Lonergan, who has spent the majority of his life in the Metro D.C. area. "Our prime location is a tremendous asset as we put a renewed emphasis on recruiting international student-athletes."
CURRENT GW INTERNATIONAL STUDENT-ATHLETES