Making a splash on the swim team: International student athlete adjusting to life in the U.S.

Tylee Bush

Some Grand Valley State University students come from local origins and Midwest hometowns, but other Lakers had to cross an ocean to acquire their place on campus. Freshman Dayen Wilson is one of these Lakers who traveled a great distance from home to study at GVSU.

Wilson, who is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, is studying finance at GVSU. He is also a student athlete and proudly represents the GVSU men’s swimming and diving team. It was a mix of academic excellence, campus perks and athletic opportunities that coaxed Wilson to leave South Africa and move to Allendale for his undergraduate studies.

“GVSU had an excellent academic program and athletic program,” Wilson said. “It looked like a school that could match my academic and athletic goals.”

Wilson flew to the U.S. for the first time to move onto GVSU’s campus in the fall of 2017, saying “it was extremely difficult in the beginning.” Since he had never been to the U.S. before, he experienced a bit of culture shock and is still working on adjusting. 

“I was not sure what to expect,” he said.

A particular shock came to him in the form of frozen precipitation. Wilson had never experienced snow until he came to GVSU, where he experienced winter in full force. 

“The first time I saw snow was an absolute surprise,” he said.

Wilson shared that in the midst of culture shock and homesickness, it really helps to be on the swim team, which has several other international students who are going through the same struggles he is. He is grateful to have people who understand the difficulties of being so far from home.

“I felt welcomed and part of a family from the get-go, which made the difference,” he said. 

He added that, for him, staying busy is the best antidote to homesickness.

“I am extremely busy with my studies and athletics,” Wilson said. “This has honestly made the time fly by.” 

In addition to schoolwork and his sport, Wilson spends a lot of time investing in his friendships and GVSU campus life. By attending activities and events on campus, he distracts himself from thoughts of missing home.

“I really like the united front that everyone at the school presents,” he said, expressing his pride in being a Laker.

He is also proud to represent the men’s swim team.

“My favorite part of being part of the swim team is definitely working really hard all year long and experiencing the ups and downs with each person on the team,” Wilson said. “Watching all of the hard work pay off at the end of the season for each person individually really makes it all worth it.”

Wilson recently finished fourth in the 1,650-meter freestyle at the GLIAC Championships on Saturday, Feb. 17. 

“My goal is to make it to the NCAA DII championship competition next year and in the years to come eventually score at this meet,” Wilson said.

With an expected graduation in 2021, Wilson also plans to return back to South Africa. 

“I am a true South African and will most likely move home to Johannesburg,” he said. 

However, he intends to take with him everything he will have learned and experienced here at GVSU.

“In the future, I plan to make the most of the skill set that I will hopefully have gained while being here,” Wilson said.