An Iowa State swimmer’s journey from France to the United States

Freshman Nolwenn Nunes looks for her time as she finishes a race for the Iowa State Cyclones.

Megan Teske

There are a lot of requirements for college athletes to get an athletic scholarship: they need to have good grades, receive good test scores, as well as have a great athletic ability in their chosen sport. For freshman Nolwenn Nunes, an international swimmer for Iowa State, that wasn’t all. She also had to learn a second language and test out of it in order to come to Iowa State.

Nunes is a swimmer who transferred to Iowa State University from Brest, France, and on top of swimming for the school, she is simultaneously learning English while taking her classes in it.

Nunes, who is a long distance swimmer for the Cyclones, said she chose Iowa State because of FaceTime calls with Assistant Coach Kelly Nordell. 

“I didn’t visit the school because it’s so far away,” Nunes said. “Kelly convinced me [to come].”

Nunes said Nordell helped with the recruitment process and told her what she needed to do in order to come. First, she had to get a good score on the SAT, and then she had to make sure she would get by with English, so she had to score well on a language test called Duolingo.

“I’m better, but I was so bad,” Nunes said. “I just had the necessary score on Duolingo, so it was okay. After that, I needed to have a 2.3 GPA during my last year of college.”

Despite coming to the United States when she was 10, August was the first time Nunes had been to Iowa, only going to Washington and New York the first time she was here. 

“Iowa is very different,” Nunes said. “[Ames] is like a small city but a huge university; it’s very strange for me.”

Nunes said there are many differences between here and France, including school and training as well as the weather.

“We have less classes than in France, we don’t have the choice of classes in France,” Nunes said. “Training is different too, the temperature now is the worst that we have one time a year in France. But the summer is less warm.”

One thing that people who travel to study abroad go through is culture shock, something which Nunes said she went through as well. 

Even though Nunes said it has been hard getting accustomed to the Iowa cold and learning a new language, she said everyone has been very kind and helpful.

“Everyone is very kind,” Nunes said. “The team and coaches are very sympathetic, and everyone helps me for everything; if I need something, I just need to ask someone, and they help me every time.”

Coach Duane Sorenson says he thinks Nunes is doing well with her transition, despite everything being different. 

“France doesn’t teach English as a second language, so Nolwenn had to have a crash course on English,” Sorenson said. “When she first came here, the English language was a challenge, and now she’s doing much better. American slang still catches her off guard, but she’s very good at saying ‘I don’t understand.’”

Sorenson said that she is doing well overcoming challenges but still has some obstacles coming her way.

“It takes her a lot longer to study for classes,” Sorenson said. “Every word she has to translate it or look it up, but she’s working very hard at it.”

He also said Nunes is blending well with the team, and she has a great personality.

“She’s funny; she’s a very hard worker in the pool,” Sorenson said. “She’s never been on a team before; it’s always been club swimming, so this is a total different environment, and I think she’s really enjoying that aspect of swimming for your teammates.”

Nunes’ teammates also help her with the English translations and American slang. Junior Lehr Thorson is someone who helps with the transition.

“I drive Nolwenn around and I talk to her about stuff outside of swimming,” Thorson said. “We have a drive every week, so there’s always an update on her social life or what’s going on at home.”

Like Sorenson, senior Anna Andersen and Thorson said they think that Nunes is doing well, considering the differences and obstacles she has had to overcome.

“There are moments when you can tell she’s really homesick and misses her family,” Andersen said. “The time difference really gets her; I think her English has improved a lot, she has a hard time understanding our slang though.”

Thorson said her texts can be broken too because she uses Google Translate, which isn’t always an accurate translation of what someone is trying to say. Food is also a different thing here than in France.

Even though there are still improvements to be made, one thing for sure is that Nunes’ coaches and teammates say that she has made vast improvements already.