The thought of attending a school in a different country may intimidate some, but for swimmer Melissa Larocque, the move from her home in Ontario, Canada to the U.S. couldn’t have gone better.
The senior has noticed some cultural differences and made some personal adjustments throughout her career, but the more than 1,200 mile distance has done nothing to hurt her college athletic experience.
“I don’t regret any minute of it,” she said. “I’ve had an awesome experience. I’ve met really cool people from all over the world. I think school is sort of the same wherever you go, but athletics-wise I can’t imagine anything better.”
Larocque said she was inspired to swim competitively at age six after she watched the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She said she immediately began swimming for a team in Montreal.
In high school, Larocque began to draw recruiting interest from college coaches in the United States, including SIU swimming and diving coach Rick Walker. She picked her top five schools and set out on a recruiting tour.
After Larocque visited Nebraska, SIU was next on the list. It was the first time Larocque met Walker and his staff face-to-face. Previously, they had only communicated through email and phone conversations. Larocque said she fell in love with the program immediately, and cancelled the scheduled visits to the other three schools. She signed a letter of intent during the early signing period in November of her junior year.
“I knew right away that I liked the coaching staff and the girls that would be my teammates,” she said. “The athletic department does a lot for the athletes.”
Because swimming is a sport based on times, Walker said he is able to recruit more international players, even if he hasn’t seen them personally. To Walker, hours of phone calls allow him to get to know athletes better than a short visit.
“Personality-wise she was everything that our program was looking for,” Walker said. “People may ask how well you can get to know someone without even seeing them, but how well can you get to know someone during the 48 hours of a visit?”
When she arrived at SIU in 2009, Larocque said the differences between life in Canada and the U.S. began to show. First, she said America had a strange type of music playing on the radio called “country.”
“I rarely heard country music back home,” she said. “I’m a huge country music fan now. I’m addicted.”
With a busy schedule of school and workouts, Larocque said it can be a struggle to find a time to come home, but when she in unable to she can always find a friend or teammate willing to take her in.
“Friends have been really nice and taken me home if they live close by,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky that nice families have been welcoming and ready to be my host family for a couple days.”
One of her close friends is Emily Hauter, a senior from Lincoln studying community health education. The girls were teammates on the swim team as freshmen. Hauter and her family invited Larocque into their home in 2011 for Thanksgiving.
“My family is open to let anyone come and stay,” Hauter said. “We don’t have a large group at our Thanksgivings, only about ten people, so we just set another place at the table. My family really enjoyed meeting her and having her around for the holidays.”
Perhaps the greatest difference between the U.S. and Canada has been the language barrier. Larocque said while in Canada she spoke French the majority of the time. This can make for some interesting conversations when she forgets what language she is using.
“She can speak English and French very well, but she is more dominant in French,” Hauter said. “Sometimes when she can’t think of the right word in English she will just spit out a French word and I have no idea what she is trying to say. We usually think that is pretty funny.”