College life is an adjustment -- the life of a student-athlete, doubly so. Settling into that lifestyle while adapting to life in another country can seem overwhelming, but South Carolina defender and native West Indian, Makan Hislop, insists it's not that bad.
Approximate distance from Columbia, S.C., to Tobago: 2,048 miles (3,296 km)
Estimated cost of a ticket to go home over winter break: $1,200
Total travel time: About 14 hours (three stops)
The first question is: How does a kid from the tiny West Indian island of Tobago end up in South Carolina?
"The first big development, obviously, is the Internet," South Carolina coach Mark Berson said. "A lot of these young men now have access to the Internet, and they keep up with not only the soccer programs and the results, but also with the universities."
Players can look up how the team has done, who it plays and what has become of past players as well get an idea of the school's academics.
Another way is word of mouth.
"Generally, teams through the years develop a network of players, maybe former players that go back home and see someone from the area that they recognize as a good player and they'll contact us," Berson said. "Sometimes the contacts come from the players themselves sending an inquiry. Sometimes we learn about them."
Hislop, now a senior, fell under the last category.
"Basically, the coach came and recruited me," explained Hislop, who has been a solid starter on the team's back line for the last three years.
Hislop was recruited to play for the No. 16 Gamecocks after then-assistant coach Brian Cunningham held a training session in Trinidad and Tobago. Cunningham liked what he saw in the young defender and relayed news of the player's potential to Berson. Trusting Cunningham's opinion, Berson offered Hislop, captain of Trinidad and Tobago's Under-21 national team, a scholarship to play soccer in Columbia.
It didn't hurt that Berson was good friends with Lincoln Phillips, technical director of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation.
"The soccer world in a way is not really that big," Berson explained. "There's a lot of contacts out there, and you kind of keep in touch over time."
Hislop discussed the offer with his parents and decided to come to the states.
What did he know about South Carolina? "Well, I knew where it was located," Hislop said.
He'd been away from home as a member of the youth national team, but that was for only a few weeks at a time. He knew being gone for months would be a little more of a challenge.
"I wasn't really worried," Hislop said of leaving home. "It was more, 'Who's going to pick me up?'"
There was still somewhat of a culture shock when he arrived.
"It was quite an adjustment culturally and economically," the senior said. "But, soccer is soccer."
Although even that was a little different.
"One thing, locally, back in Trinidad and Tobago, there's a certain type of football, everyone plays more slow and composed," Hislop said. "In America, the game is played faster and more aggressively."
The American style, he explained, is centered on a more rounded team where individual players are put into a system. Back home, the game tended to center around four or five top players. His time on the youth national team helped prepare him for the change.
"I was able to be exposed to that speed and that kind of difference in the game," Hislop said. "I would like to think that the Under-21 team gave me that insight into the international game and how to compete at that level."
The biggest adjustment was academic. For the first time, Hislop was responsible for picking his own courses, making sure that his studies got done and living away from his family. All typical college student issues, but compounded by distance.
"A lot of times, I'm sort of on my own," Hislop said. "If anything goes wrong, I don't really have someone easily a phone call away. ... It's not that simple for me because I'm international, but it's forced me to be more independent."
It has also made him feel more appreciated when he does get back home.
"Every time I go home, everyone gets so excited," Hislop said, laughing. "They have so many questions and are always saying, 'Tell us a story.' When I go home for Christmas, it's like a homecoming."
He appreciates home more as well. Having been raised on a tropical island, Hislop rarely thought much about going to the beach in his youth.
"Before I came to America, I never ever went to the beach," he said. "But whenever I go home, I always want to go to the beach."