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Sticking with home for the Olympics

BY LILY ABROMEIT | FEBRUARY 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Olympic games reach globally, and a few international students feel the effect at the University of Iowa.

While they may be studying here, many said they do not feel a strong enough connection to the United States to cheer for the American teams during the Winter Olympics.

“I’m very indifferent about it,” UI junior Kumar Agrawal said. “I’m an international student here, [and] I’m studying here, but it’s really not a big deal for me [how the United States does].”

Agrawal, who was born in Nepal but grew up in Thailand, said he doesn’t feel as connected to the United States as he does to what he considers his homelands.

UI senior Juyun Han said she feels the same way about her home country, South Korea.

“I cheer only for South Korea right now because that country is my country,” she said. “I like the winter [sports] because … South Korea is really good at them.”

Han said she doesn’t understand why international students would want to cheer for more than their home country, because she sees her time here as purely for educational reasons.

“I think for international students, America is not their country; this is just a country for studying,” she said. “I [would] think almost every international student would cheer for their own countries, not the [United States].”

For one UI student, his homeland does not play a superior role when he decides which team to cheer for during the games.

“I cheer for the United States,” said UI senior Pratik Bhakta, who was born in Canada. “I still have a Canadian passport, I’m still a Canadian citizen, but if you ask me what my country is, I would say the United States.”

Bhakta said sometimes the intense pro-America culture that surfaces during the Olympics can be intense.

“It can be a bit overwhelming at times, just because the overwhelming majority of fans are United States fans,” he said.

He thinks a lot of hostility can arise between opposing countries and fans, because the Olympics are all about pride.

“It only happens every four years, [and] it’s where you’re from,” he said. “I think people take a lot of pride in it … and I think you’re born with [that pride].”

Kaitlin Najeong Kim, a UI junior from South Korea, said she cheers for her country no matter how well it does simply out of loyalty.

“I think it is very natural that international students cheer for their own country, because the fact that I am a Korean, and Korea is my country doesn’t change, despite [the fact that] I am outside of my country,” she wrote in an email. “When it comes to any kind of game, I cheer for my country.”

Kim said she also has experienced the pressure to support a certain team. However, she said she does not think the United States has as strong of commitment to the games as other countries might.

“If other [American] students (were) enthusiastic about [the] Olympics, and [the] majority of people cheered for [the United States], I would be influenced by those people,” she said.

“However, people who are interested in [the] Olympics around me are Korean students. Therefore, I don’t really feel guilty about cheering for my country.”

UI senior Abdul Aljoufi said he thinks the Olympics are more about the sport, not the countries competing.

“When you see the sports that are actually happening, it’s not that the United States is happening, it’s just the sports,” he said.

However, Aljoufi, who is the president of the Arab Student Association, said for many students from the Middle East, the Winter Olympics do not provide the entertainment they wish to see.

“The thing is, we don’t follow the Winter Olympics in general because when it comes to the Middle East … the sport most people follow is soccer,” he said. “We don’t see a lot of people interested [in the Winter Games].”

Aljoufi, who is originally from Yemen, said if his home country and the United States ever went head-to-head, he wouldn’t know which to cheer for.

“If they played against each other, honestly, I would be happy either way,” he said. “I belong to both.”


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