As a university, Western Carolina prides itself on its accomplishments in cooperative and international studies. WCU not only hosts a large number of international students, whether in undergraduate or graduate course work, but also sends students to other institutions of higher education around the world.
Western Carolina currently employs a “Jamaica program” which reaches out to Caribbean brethren who wish to become teachers in the island country. With the lack of four-year education in their homeland, Cullowhee becomes “Kingston North,” so to speak, allowing these prospective teachers to earn their Bachelor of Science Degree in Education.
Domestic students of WCU can also pursue educational opportunities outside of the microcosm that is the Cullowhee Valley through the University of North Carolina Exchange Program. The modern foreign language department, which has come under fire with the new Program Review that has swept campus like the “Angel of Death” axing programs that don’t fit under the lamb’s blood apron of enrollment numbers, offers opportunities to travel abroad and study. Cultures, customs, and languages that otherwise are taught only through stories, videos, and text come alive for students in a true “real world” experience.
However, few international students are put through the rigors of adjusting to a new country, new language, new school, and new challenges more than a pair of foreign immigrants who are pursuing their education as Catamounts this year.
Freshmen Emre Atsur and Rans Brempong are having to deal not only with the change of scenery that has them thousands of miles from their homeland and native weather patterns, these first-year students, who are also roommates, are also adjusting to being student-athletes.
Rans Brempong is from the United State’s northern neighbor, Canada. Hailing from Thornhill, Ontario, Brempong chose WCU because of it’s small, close-knit environment.
“I like the close atmosphere,” said Brempong. “Everyone seems to know each other, and it’s a real friendly campus.”
He added, “I didn’t want to go to a big school. My parents thought it’d be too hard trying to make the transition from Canada.”
During his rookie season as a Catamount, Rans has made himself right at home in the paint. Having seen action in all 29 games, including 20 starts, Brempong has swatted a Southern Conference best 88 shots, giving him the WCU record for a single-season, as well as placing him second on the career-blocked shots list a mere 24 behind the leader.
“When I first started blocking shots, it wasn’t something I did consciously,” said the 6’8″ Canadian who’s hand shake totally shallows those whom he meets. ” I grew from grade nine from 5’10” to 6’4″ in one summer so my arms and legs were longer. When I played basketball, I just did what came naturally and blocking shots just came natural.”
Brempong continued, “People started seeing me block shots and started calling me a shot blocker. Now, I go out there and try to get some blocks, but when I go for the block, I don’t really realize, it’s just something that comes naturally.”
And through it all, the mild-mannered Ontario native has gained some confidence and a bit of American swagger.
“I almost think I can block almost anyone’s shot in the country,” said Brempong without missing a beat. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing as long as I play it smart and realize what I’m good at and try to do it.”
Brempong led the team in rebounding nine times and scoring once as a frosh, averaging over seven and a half points per game, twenty-one points being his career-high.
Emre Atsur comes from a city that straddles Europe and Asia and that was once known to the world as Constantinople; modern-day Istanbul, Turkey. Recruited by head coach Steve Shurina through his connections at Vanderbilt and Davidson, where Shurina coached another Turkish player, Ali Ton, Atsur never actually visited with his new coach, nor set foot on campus.
“I saw pictures of campus. I was on the web site, and I liked them all,” Atsur said through broken, yet developing English.
When he finally arrived in Western North Carolina, Atsur was a bit surprised.
“I thought campus was bigger than I thought,” he explained. “I thought Cullowhee was small, but it’s not that small. I thought it was just in the forest or something.”
Adjusting to a similar climate wasn’t much of a problem. What was, however, was adjusting to the American-style of round ball.
“The game here is real competitive. Everyone is playing ball or trying to play at least once in their life and it they are good, they just keep playing. In Turkey, not many people play, and there aren’t as many good teams,” he said. “They play fast here. I had problems adjusting to it, but I’m getting better.”
Off-court adjustments have proven to be just as big – for instance, finding a decent meal! Emre states he’s not used to the large quantities of fast food consumed by Americans.
“My mother used to cook normal food like not fast or from the microwave,” said Atsur with a glimmer of home in his eye.
What’s his favorite Turkish cuisine? Kebap. He describes it as thick meat, like steak or beef. But his longing for real “home cookin'” hasn’t totally discouraged his feelings of America.
“I like the United States. Cullowhee is peaceful and quiet,” he said. “You can play ball and study and that’s what I need, actually. I don’t like distractions that much.”
Atsur has seen action in 17 games this season, including a pair of starts in the Catamount backcourt. He shot 37 percent from behind the three-point arc in all games, which rose to 41 percent in conference match-ups.
He scored a career-high 10 points in the regular-season finale win, instrumental in their five-point win over UNC Greensboro.
Atsur plans on taking the ultimate of Spring Break trips this year. He’s planning on returning home to Turkey – unless of course the Catamounts make it to the NCAA tournament…