(Malik Tyne, #31, sets up with his teammates at the last spring game of the season before the long summer break. (Photo Credit: Leah Volpe/TU Student))

Stepping into the Tower A lobby of Towson campus, a few students at the community center desk speak quietly and type on their computers. Encouraging quotes and pictures litter the white walls.

Breaking into a sweat after hiking up eleven flights of stairs because the elevator is broken, and entering a tiny dorm room scattered with wrinkled clothes and empty food boxes, two boys are glued to their 20’ inch television screen playing an intense game of NBA 2K on their PlayStation.

This is a typical Wednesday night for sophomore Towson Football player Malik Tyne.

Aside from the clutter, one thing in the room stands out from the rest, the Canadian flag hanging from the wall by a few pieces of scotch tape. The flag is a constant reminder of life back home for Malik.

“I loved my life back home, mainly because my family is based there,” Tyne said. “Back home basketball and football were my main focuses and the culture back home was heavily involved into the football and basketball. Another thing I’d like to say about back home is the people around me were extremely courteous and polite.”

Coming from Brampton, Canada, approximately a half-hour from Toronto, Malik grew up in a middle-class suburban family with a passion for athletics, focused mainly in basketball.

His sophomore year at St. Edmund Campion, he was approached with an offer to play basketball by Tony Martin, the head coach of the John Carroll high school basketball team in Bel Air, Md. After a long discussion with his hesitant parents, Tyne decided to move to a different country and live with strangers along with his two hometown friends Eli and Kimble.

Being a 7-hour drive away from his parents and two younger siblings, Mikkel and Mikayla, was never easy, but with the support of his host family and new friends in Maryland, he became quickly accustomed to his lifestyle change.

Flash-forward three years to 2015, Malik, the 6-foot 2-inch basketball forward, entered his senior year at John Carroll with an uncertain future in the world of basketball. As encouraged by the head coaches, Tyne made the decision to try his talents at the sport of football. He had played casually back home with friends but had never seriously considered a future with football.

When graduation rolled around May 30, 2015, Tyne had two offers from colleges for basketball and a full-ride scholarship offer for football at Towson University and a big decision to make. Basketball had always remained his own true passion, a passion strong enough to move him from his home and family. Yet, he showed true potential for a college career in football.

Tyne decided to continue his life in Maryland by committing to Towson University with a full-ride to study Health Care Management and dedicate his athletic abilities to the Towson Football Program. He admits to choosing this option for his family’s sake first, and athletics second.

“My main motivation for doing athletics is saving money for my family and I,” Tyne said. “The scholarship money makes up for a lot of the money my parents would be spending on me to go to school. Another reason would be because I love the sport of football and there can be a chance I play professionally hopefully.”

Many other students like Tyne travel farther than just a seven-hour drive for the opportunity to play sports at a division-one university. Nika Shakhnazarova, 20, was offered a full-ride to Towson for a tennis scholarship. For Shakhnazarova, Towson is a long way from her home in London, England.

International student athletes face a variety of different hardships that are unique in comparison to what a regular student struggles with when transitioning into the college life.

The key to getting through the hectic college life away from home is the close relationships formed with teammates.

“I love my teammates and that’s what always makes life easier,” Shakhnazarova said.

Leaning on teammates, academic advisors and coaches through the stressful times is how Tyne says he learns many of his life lessons. Towson University is able to offer support to international students through advisors and makes it easy to find help when it is needed.

“International students experience many of the same challenges as American domestic students, both in the classroom and socially,” said Gail Gibbs, the Director of the International Student and Scholar Office. “The immigration advisors at the ISSO may additionally assist in providing guidance, training workshops, or supplementary instruction as necessary.”

For students like Tyne and Shakhnazarova, creating their own life away from home is not the greatest issue they face. The biggest challenge that outweighs all others is finding a balance between athletics, classes and school work. Being a part of a sports team requires constant energy throughout the demanding hours of their schedule.

“That’s not a stereotype,” Shakhnazarova said. “It’s actually very difficult to balance it all out. But the athletics department is very good in helping athletes achieve good grades and have time to do homework, so I can’t complain.”

For most athletes at Towson University, the Athletic Academic Achievement Center is where they spend most of their time doing homework with their academic advisers guiding and encouraging them along the way. The relationship between adviser and student athlete has proven successful in the long run.

As of October 2016, Towson has a 71% graduation rate of student athletes, according to their website. Student athletes have also been found to have higher graduation rates and higher grade point averages when compared to the rest of the Towson University population.

International student athletes not only grow academically and train vigorously at Towson, they are also able to discover a different side to themselves.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and became a whole lot more independent as a person,” Shakhnazarova said. “I’ve also become more culturally aware and knowledgeable.”

For a Brampton-born Jamaican boy, Malik Tyne says studying internationally expanded his knowledge of America’s history and perspective. He plans to continue to study and train hard for a potential professional career in football.

“I am very happy with my decision to go to Towson,” Tyne said. “Towson has treated me right for the most part and can honestly say it’s like a second home.”

Tyne always reminds himself of where he came from through simple actions like waking up to his native flag every morning before a long day of classes and practice.

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