Life as a Sports Scholarship Student in the USA - Elise Grong Ruud
- Study Abroad
Hi. Thanks for inviting me!
When did you decide to go to the States?
It was after high school. I wanted to go to Australia or the USA. I wasn't motivated to start studying yet, so I moved to Australia first. I stayed there for around nine months, working different jobs. At the end of that journey, I wanted to go to the US. I had a couple of friends who were track and field students there. I spoke to them about life as a student-athlete. And that's when I felt ready to try it myself.
And why did you choose North Park?
My consultant at College Scholarships USA, Marcus, did his master's at North Park. He told me all about the school. I had a few other options, but everything Marcus said about North Park made it sound like a really good school. Plus, it was in Chicago, which is the third biggest city in the US. So I thought, why not?
Do you think taking a gap year in Australia gave you the confidence to go and study in the US?
That's exactly what happened. I was training in Australia, but I wanted to start competing again. I also wanted to experience a new culture and meet new people. That's why I went to the USA. I felt like there would be so many opportunities there.
What was it like moving and settling into the States?
I didn't expect there to be so much paperwork! I wouldn't advise on rushing the process as there's so much admin stuff to sort out. I had three amazing years in the US, but the first week of college was a culture shock. You're living in a dorm, and there's lots of information to take on board and rules to follow. And the first few track sessions were hard. I wasn't in the best shape. It was all a bit overwhelming. But then I got to know my coaches, the professors, and my teammates. Then everything started to change for the better.
You started college in January, which is right before competition season. How do you prepare for that?
Lots of running and lots of lifting! As I said, I wasn't in the best shape. So I picked up an injury. But the school had physios you could see for free. They help you with anything. Once I recovered, it took another year or so to really get used to that hard way of training.
How did it differ from the training you did back in Norway?
We focus more on technique in Norway. In the US, they do lots of heavy lifting and sprinting. You can sprint three to five days a week. That's tough training. And the sessions were longer. We'd work out for three to four hours without a break.
How did it improve you as an athlete?
I got much stronger and faster. You're also competing every weekend, so your body gets used to that. I kept getting faster at each big meet and competition.
What was the atmosphere like at practices and competitions?
It was fun and supportive. We'd watch each other compete and cheer for each other. There was a strong sense of team spirit. And we had fun at practice. I heard about other schools that were super-serious, where you couldn't even laugh at training. It wasn't like that at North Park. We had a great time!
You won many awards and broke personal records while at North Park. What was your stand-out achievement?
Qualifying for the NCAA D3 National Tournament! It was my main goal, and I achieved it. Getting second place in the hurdles at The College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) athletic conference was also a big deal. The level there is really high. There were so many good athletes there and the atmosphere was incredible.
College sports are a big deal in the US. Did you ever feel pressure when competing?
In the beginning, I felt pressure to do well for the school. But then I learnt to focus on doing well for myself. I wasn't at the most competitive school, so there was less pressure. And if you do bad, the coaches and your teammates are always supportive.
You became an Academic All-American, which means you performed exceptionally well on the field and in the classroom. How did you manage to balance athletics practice with school work?
I had high ambitions and wanted to get high grades. So I worked extra hard, especially in the last two years. I learnt that it's OK to brag and be proud of winning awards and doing well. That's not always the case in Scandinavian countries.
What did you study?
I majored in Business Management.
And what was it like being an international student at a US school?
I was worried about attending some classes because my English wasn't so good. There's a massive difference between learning and actually speaking English. I told this to one professor, and they said, "Don't worry. I'll help you." We went for a coffee, and he gave me lots of reassurances. That would never have happened in Norway.
North Park is a private college affiliated with a Christian Church. It must have felt very different from school in Norway.
It did. We had Bible classes. There were also regular gospel services to attend, which are very different from services in Norway. I used to get very emotional at the gospels. There are lots of singing and inspiring speeches. It was a unique and amazing experience.
How did you find life in Chicago?
It gets cold in the Winter! One day it was -30°C! We weren't allowed outside. But Spring starts in early March. Then it's lovely weather until October. And there are lots of fun things to do and see, including lakes, museums, and lovely restaurants. I can see why people call it the best city in the world.
Did you get to see any other places around the USA?
I travelled when I could, mainly during the Easter and Thanksgiving break. And I did lots of travelling during the Fall season. I went to Hawaii, LA, North Carolina, and New York.
You graduated from North Park and are back at home in Norway. What are you up to now?
I'm studying for a master's in business at school here in Norway, and I'm still doing track with a local club. It's a bit different from life in the USA. But I'm learning more and gaining new experiences.
It's great you could use your bachelor's degree for something back home.
Definitely. Finding a job was hard when I came back because of the COVID outbreak. So I was delighted to get accepted to the masters'. It means I can be a student for two more years.
What pieces of advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting their own journey to the US?
Like Nike says, "JUST DO IT!" That's what I did. Plan ahead and make the most of all the opportunities. Embrace the cultural difference; it makes college life a lot easier.
On that note, thanks for coming on the show. Your insight has been great and inspiring!
Thank you again for having me. I've had a blast!
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After graduating with a degree in English literature and creative writing, Ashley worked as a bartender, insurance broker, and teacher. He became a full-time freelance writer in 2016. He lives and writes in Manchester, England.
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