Remote States

Alaskan, Hawaiian student athletes make their mark at WPI

October 23, 2013
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While it’s hardly news that WPI attracts students from the far corners of the world, WPI athletics can currently boast two student athletes from the far corners of the United States―Alaska and Hawaii.

Senior Holly Ganser, from Seward, Alaska, is co-captain of the women’s volleyball team. Coming from a somewhat different climate, Honolulu’s John Foy, also a senior, is a defensive back for the men’s varsity football team.

And while it’s expected that there will be cultural differences between American and foreign students, the differences between Americans from remote parts of the U.S. can be equally stark.

For Ganser, the first challenge was acclimating to a college campus that is only slightly smaller than her hometown. Dining choices also were noticeably different right from the start. In Alaska, she was accustomed to having fresh fish on a weekly basis. Here, she observes, more pasta than fish is consumed. And, of course, there is the unique way New Englanders communicate.

No one in Alaska says ‘wicked’ (as a synonym for ‘very’). I actually get made fun of when I go home and say that.
Ganser reveals.

Not surprisingly, Ganser also had some concerns about how the game might differ more than 4,000 miles apart. She says that outside of the schools, there are only about three volleyball programs in the entire state. Unfortunately for her, the nearest one was more than 100 miles from home.

The transition from Seward to Worcester during her freshman year was made easier by some teammates who also came from far-away homes, she reveals.

“Those girls in particular made sure that I was never homesick. They took me home for holidays and became a new family for me when I couldn’t go home to see mine,” Ganser recalls. She is now returning the favor to new teammates from distant hometowns. She makes a point of talking and offering comfort as one who can relate to what they are experiencing.

Not every difference posed a challenge, however. One very pleasant surprise, she says, was fan support.

“Volleyball isn’t really a huge sport in Alaska so we never filled the gym. Our fans here are really supportive. The other sports teams come to our games; even if they don’t entirely understand the sport, they still come out and cheer. It’s awesome to get a kill or a really awesome block and hear the crowd cheering for you.”

Ganser says she gets home during winter and summer breaks. Also easing homesickness is the fact that her parents are staying in the area for her senior season. A civil engineering major with a minor in environmental studies, Ganser is looking forward to graduating in the spring. After that, she plans to pursue a career in Alaska or on the East Coast.

It should come as no surprise that the biggest difference Foy observed in moving from Hawaii to Massachusetts was the climate.

“Here, it gets cold fast,” he says. “I played in a real snow bowl my sophomore year against Hobart College. Went to the half with no snow; came out after halftime to find a blizzard with a couple inches of snow already on the turf.” Otherwise, he says, “football is football no matter where you play it. Fans are the same; great, everywhere you play.”

The sport is very big in Hawaii, with huge rivalries and communities that rally around their teams, he adds.

Like Ganser, Foy also took note of New England’s particular brand of English, though he says it was fun and, despite the region’s reputation for being somewhat standoffish, “there is still a little aloha to be found.”

A biomedical engineering major with a business minor, Foy says he chose WPI because he wanted to study engineering and play football. He was also looking to experience something totally different from Hawaii and specifically targeted the East Coast. He says his visit to campus “sealed the deal.”

With graduation planned for next spring, Foy is applying to graduate schools and exploring full-time employment.

“I want to give myself the most choices possible to make a good decision for my future,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to use my passion for engineering and entrepreneurship to start a company in Hawaii.”

- By Mike D’Onofrio