The combination of academics, athletics and a social life at Lehigh can be overwhelming, especially while being far away from home. Lehigh runners freshman Samuel Tapera and sophomore Victor Yegon balance it all, despite going to a school almost 10,000 miles away from their home countries.
Tapera and Yegon both traveled to Pennsylvania from Africa to pursue their dreams of competing as athletes and receiving an education in the United States. Tapera grew up in Zimbabwe; Yegon comes from Kenya.
Tapera’s aspirations of becoming an engineer led him to Lehigh. After searching for schools in the U.S. with engineering programs and track and field teams, he said Lehigh stood out to him.
“I initially sent an email to a wide range of colleges expressing interest in joining their track team,” Tapera said. “(Assistant track and field coach Ryan Yurchick) replied to me and seemed interested in me joining their program. After having several interviews with him and the rest of the coaching staff, I decided that Lehigh was the best option for me.”
Yegon was part of a program called KenSAP that helps gifted Kenyan high school students gain admission to select universities in the United States. He heard about Lehigh through Evans Kosgei, ’12, who was part of the same program.
Though he didn’t run cross country in high school, Yegon reached out to Lehigh cross country coach Todd Etters to express his interest in competing as a Mountain Hawk.
“Despite the fact that I was relatively new in the sport, never having run in high school, I reached out to coach Todd Etters and told him that I would like to apply to Lehigh and be a part of the team here,” Yegon said. “He was really supportive, and the fact that I’m here is largely due to his help.”
Both international students had trouble adjusting to Lehigh at first. Tapera said there is difference in his social life at Lehigh as opposed to at home.
“The social climate is a bit different,” Tapera said. “Making new friends is a challenge, but I suppose that’s how it is for most freshmen.”
Yegon dealt with homesickness.
“Being away from family is tough,” Yegon said. “Homesickness hits hard once in a while, and often when the school workload and training gets hard.”
Despite the challenges both faced, Lehigh has provided Tapera and Yegon with valuable life experiences.
“Being here is a different experience from what I am used to at home,” Yegon said. “It gives one a different world view and also helps you to develop new relationships with teammates and students at Lehigh.”
Track and field coach Matt Utesch said while the two runners come from another continent entirely, they fit right in as members of the team.
“In most ways, they are both just regular members of the team,” Utesch said. “It’s the more off-times when we get into conversations about what it’s like coming from Africa. It often provides for good comedy because some of us are fairly naive about other countries. We are learning from them.”
Having a teammate who traveled just as far to achieve the same goal has been helpful for the pair.
“(Yegon) was very welcoming once I arrived on campus,” Tapera said. “It’s great having someone who you can relate to easier and who can understand the same struggles you go through.”