Overcoming a language barrier and adjusting to a foreign culture were challenges that Samuel Abascal took in stride when he came to America.
Coming from Spain, Abascal was greeted by a world of differences when he chose to run on the cross-country team at Eastern Kentucky University. While it didn’t come easy for Abascal, he found strength in his teammates and his ability to connect with fellow Spanish speakers in his first few months in America.
For Abascal, competing in track and field is strongly connected to both his family and his country.
His father, José Manuel, was an Olympian, winning Spain their first ever Olympic medal in track back in 1984. Abascal also ran for Spain’s national team four times before coming to EKU.
“I think it’s probably one of the most important experiences I’ve had in my life. Representing a team is really important, but when you’re representing an entire country, it is more important,” Abascal said.
Running in countries like Sweden, Italy and Tunisia for the national team showed Abascal that these cross-cultural experiences are valuable because you are surrounded by people who are different from you in many ways yet still successful.
“It really puts you out of your comfort zone going through experiences like this,” Abascal said. “I feel like people progress and grow when we are out of our comfort zone.”
When Abascal received an offer from an American school after his first year at the University of Leon in Spain, he didn’t immediately jump at the idea.
Since he had a solid year running at the University of Leon and felt comfortable in his home country. There were a lot of benefits to staying in Spain for Abascal. It wasn’t an easy choice, but Abascal decided that looking overseas to continue his education would be beneficial for both his track career and his education.
For his sophomore year of university, Abascal chose to cross the Atlantic Ocean and come to EKU. Over the next three years running for EKU, Abascal did not simply meet expectations, he crushed them. His list of accomplishments includes multiple Ohio Valley Conference championships, personal medals in the steeplechase and OVC Track Athlete of the Year 2019.
While this long list of accomplishments is very impressive, it did not come without overcoming many cultural challenges first.
Abascal encountered issues with the language barrier before he even arrived at EKU.
On his flight from Detroit to Lexington, Abascal was informed that his flight had been overbooked and they couldn’t get him to Lexington on time. This already frustrating experience was only made worse by a language barrier.
Abascal was forced to turn to a fellow passenger to help him communicate. This person happened to be a woman from Venezuela, fluent in both Spanish and English.
Abascal eventually made it onto his flight and made it here to EKU, but this encounter was an indicator for the challenges to come.
The first couple months at EKU were the hardest for Abascal.
Many times he felt as if his improficiency in English and his accent held him back from participating in classroom discussions or properly expressing his emotions to his teammates during practices.
Even small things like earlier lunch and dinner times here in America took some adjustment.
But, Abascal wasn’t alone at EKU. He was surrounded by teammates, coaches and professors all who wanted to see him succeed.
Abascal had older teammates such as Jaime Escriche or Sergio Mena, who were also from Spain, that helped him adjust to life in America. The simple fact that there were people around that Abascal knew he could fluently communicate with allowed him to transition easier into American culture.
The bond between Abascal and his team quickly grew. Through three seasons he ran with them and eventually went to the National Championships with the cross country team in the Fall of 2018.
Despite being named the OVC Track Athlete of the Year in 2019, Abascal said going to to the National Championship with his team as his greatest accomplishment.
“It was a really huge accomplishment, but it was more like the feeling of sharing with all my teammates,” Abascal said.
Now after three years in America, Abascal has turned into a leader for this cross country squad.
“He’s taken on more and more of a leadership role. This year and last year he’s developed into more of a leader and interacts with his teammates really well,” head coach Cory Erdmann said.
In his final year of running with EKU, Abascal now has the opportunity to lead his team and help out the younger students who are going through the same things he was upon his arrival here three years ago.