After living 45 minutes apart their whole lives, it was a trip of well over 4,300 miles and the sport of field hockey that has bonded Saint Louis University’s freshmen Julia Bakker and Noor Kalf.
The Dutch duo have never had trouble catching the eye of coaches and would have had no difficulty transitioning to a college as student athletes back home in the Netherlands, but the Dutch do things a little differently.
“It feels kind of cool to represent a university,” Bakker said. “That’s not what you do in the Netherlands; you play on club teams because universities don’t have sports teams.”
Despite growing up and playing field hockey only 70.2 km from one another, or 43 miles as many of their new teammates would say, it took a look at the Saint Louis University field hockey roster to bring the two together.
“We met up one time and had a coffee,” Bakker said. “We just talked about how we got into going to the United States and what we wanted and what we expected from going there. We knew it was going to be hard because it was so far away.”
After staying in close contact until moving day, the two made the trip to the United States. After meeting Coach Danielle Baumgarnder and the rest of the Billikens, they found they may not be so far out of place after all.
“Our team is very diverse in general so they fit in very well,” Baumgardner said. “A lot of our girls aren’t from St. Louis; we’re literally from all over the country. It’s common to have international students, some teams will have up to six or seven international players.”
Book work from one country to another was a smooth transition as well.
“Our overall team GPA is a 3.5 so they fit in really well in the classroom too,” Baumgardner said. “They really do contribute to our vision as a program.”
While school and teammate interactions have both been easy for Bakker and Kalf, there are still adjustments to be made after six months of living in the United States.
“In the Netherlands we’re very direct so we say the things that come up in our minds but here they’re really held back,” Bakker said. “They’re really hard workers here but in the Netherlands they’re a little more laid back. Being on time and stuff is another difference, a lot of internationals are laid back when it comes to that kind of thing.”
Because of the difference between club play and collegiate athletics, there has definitely been a culture shock on the field as well.
“I didn’t expect to get this much playing time,” Kalf said. “I’m still working on adjusting here. I’ve never practiced this much so it’s a whole lifestyle change.”
While Kalf and Bakker know there are always going to be culture changes to learn and get used to, the game that brought them together turns out to be surprisingly universal.
“I expected they were playing forward a lot more instead of bringing the ball back to their side,” Bakker said. “When I started playing here it was less than I expected.”
Even if the two had needed to adjust on the field as well, Coach Baumgardner assures it’s their intangibles that would have made them just as valuable no matter the system.
“They play opposite ends of the field well,” Baumgardner said. “Numbers vary but Noor’s our central defender with her visual skill, she’s reliable. Julia’s a spark for us on the forward line. She has really grown it’s really exciting to watch her play. She’s got a great backhand, ton of speed, just a spark.”
With their college careers just beginning, there are likely more obstacles to come for the Dutch duo. But with time also comes familiarity and although they may experience homesickness on occasion and go their separate ways when all is said and done, the 4,300 mile bond will always play a role in their lives.
“I think we’re definitely going to be really close,” Bakker said. “I think we’re still going to be in touch with the people we’re closest to after school, visiting each other and always talking to each other. That will definitely be us.”
Article by: Walker Van Wey – Lindenwood University and you can find him on Twitter @Walker_VanWey