International student-athletes find home away from home

By ALEXANDRA WILDER & CHRISTIAN MOYA

Staff Writers

Finn Eckhardt and Matteo Madrassi are a long way from home. The two international student-athletes opened up about going to school in a different country, adjusting to life in America and the many aspects of being an athlete at Cal Poly Pomona.

Eckhardt, a 7-foot tall forward on the men’s basketball team, hails all the way from Stuttgart, Germany. The redshirt sophomore chose CPP because of the team, the coaches and how nice the school and campus are. While Stuttgart’s home town is over 5,800 miles from California, Eckhardt knew about CPP through a mutual friend.

Tobias Jahn, a member of CPP’s 2010 national championship basketball team and former teammate of Eckhardt’s, told head coach Greg Kamansky about Eckhardt and that is how the two got in contact.

Eckhardt’s favorite part about CPP is his connection to basketball. Eckhardt was a part of the 2018 and 2019 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship teams and contributed with his 7-foot frame.

Being in California and at CPP was and can still be unfamiliar territory for Eckhardt.

“The biggest challenge is the language barrier and being able to take care of myself without any help,” Eckhardt said. “I knew English and could communicate with people, but I have learned a lot since I have been in America. I got more fluent and can keep conversations going.”

Finn Eckhardt had a season-high 10 points against Sonoma State on Feb. 2.
(Courtesy of Peter McLean)

Most CPP students have easy access to going home, but for Eckhardt it can be a little different.

“I’m not always homesick. I’m usually busy with school and basketball so there is no time,” Eckhardt said. “If I do feel homesick, I will talk to my parents or family. Otherwise, I will just start doing something like playing basketball to get distracted.”

Next season, Eckhardt will be a junior on the men’s basketball team. Due to COVID-19, Eckhardt is back home in Germany with his family.

Madrassi is a sophomore pole vaulter from Udine, Italy. He chose CPP because it is a great school for engineering, and he liked what head coach Chris Bradford had to say about the track and field program. A mutual friend helped him get in contact with the CPP track and field coaches.

Madrassi’s favorite part about CPP is that he can achieve both his athletic and academic goals at the same time.

“I love to have facilities on campus; I never thought one day I was going to be able to start my workout right after a university lecture,” Madrassi said.

Matteo Madrassi kicked off his first season as a Bronco at the 24th Annual Rossi Relays. He placed first in the pole vault with a provisional mark of 5.05 meters. (Nouk Keovyphone | The Poly Post)

Although he loves going to school in the United States, housing and everyday activities are the biggest adjustments he has faced since arriving to campus.

“I have to live by myself, run my own house, cook my own food and take care of a lot of things that I haven’t considered before,” Madrassi said. “Plus, all of this is done in a foreign country, with different language and culture.”

Even though Madrassi is 6,000 miles away from home, he has only been homesick a handful of times.

“Probably the only time where I felt homesick was in December,” Madrassi said. “The stress that accumulated during that time of the year and the load of studying for finals didn’t help. I knew I was going home for Christmas break, so I tried my best to finish the semester strong and go home.”

During these uncertain times with the coronavirus, Madrassi is home with his family. Once his season was canceled and classes went online, he realized that he needed to be home.

“I called the Italian embassy to understand how the situation with flying and the coronavirus was, and they told me to leave the country and go back to Italy as soon as possible before the airports were going to be shut down,” Madrassi said.

A week later he found himself on a plane headed back home. Once he landed, he realized that something was different.

“Everything is shut down. Police are literally at every corner to check on people and give a 300€ ($325) ticket,” Madrassi said. “The situation is loosening up a little bit, we are able to work out in a radius of 500 meters from our house and there are also less police.”

Madrassi will be a junior next season and hopes to return to CPP and compete once this is all over.

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