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Spaniard Munoz Giron adjusting to new culture at FGCU

Countless games of beach paddleball ignited a desire in Florida Gulf Coast University junior tennis player Candela Munoz Giron that led her 4,965 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

What started out as simple games of beach paddleball with her dad turned into the idea to play tennis and then to the commitment to become an athlete.

When Munoz Giron was 18 years old, she decided to leave Alicante, Spain, to play tennis at Troy University in Alabama. It was her first time away from home and her first time in the United States. The transition to the American culture was tough for Munoz Giron, but the uncertainty was what drove her.

“I wanted to come and see how things were different here,” she said. “I wanted to experience what living far away was like, and I wanted to see all the ways to live life.”

After high school, Munoz Giron didn’t know if she wanted to continue to play tennis. One thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to come to the U.S.

“They allow you to play, and they help you to study over here,” she said. “In Spain, if you play you don’t study, and I didn’t want to do that.”

As a result, Munoz Giron decided to attend Troy University and play on the women’s tennis team. She knew it would be different, but she didn’t realize how hard the language barrier was going to be.

“It was terrible,” Munoz Giron said. “I have no words to explain it. I could only say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and ‘Bye’, but I couldn’t understand anything from my coach or my classes or anyone.”

FGCU women’s tennis head coach Courtney Vernon is trying to help in adjusting to the new culture.

“They can help and they can also not help,” Vernon said. “She was thrown into a life she didn’t even know, and she was expected to do a lot of things. I have a lot of respect for girls that make that choice and stay committed to what they are trying to do.”

The language barrier intensified when Munoz Giron faced health problems in October, only two months after arriving in the United States.

“I love eating, and I used to go to restaurants with my boyfriend,” Munoz Giron said. “Then one weekend we went to dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday, and I couldn’t eat.”

The next day her coach took her to the doctor, and that night she was in the hospital. She didn’t know how to express the pain to the doctors except through hand gestures.

The doctors discovered that she needed to have her appendix removed, and the next day she had to have surgery.

“I had never been in a hospital, and then I came here and the first thing that happens is that I had to have appendix surgery,” Munoz Giron said. “Then I had an infection, and it was so hard. Everything was so hard.”

Because of the surgery and infection, she had to take two months off tennis.

Once she was able to play again, she had to get used to the difference in lifestyles between Spain and the United States.

Munoz Giron was used to waking up at 10 a.m. for practice in Spain, but in the United States she had to wake up at 6 a.m. for practice. As a result, the schedule she was used to at home had to change.

“In Spain you eat lunch at 2 p.m., and here it is at 11 a.m.,” Munoz Giron said. “I hate eating salads at 11. Now I cook and I know how things work, but when we were at tournaments, we would go to dinner at 6 p.m. and in Spain you are eating at 9 or 10 p.m.”

Despite adjusting to life at Troy University, Munoz Giron decided to transfer to FGCU her junior year.

Munoz Giron found that FGCU had similarities to home. Alicante, Spain, is a port on the Costa Blanca. It has mild winters and warm summers and is on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. She grew up on the beach, and at Troy it was at least a two-hour drive to get to the beach.

“At the other school I wouldn’t be able to go to the beach,” Munoz Giron said. “Here I just have to walk.”

With the beach nearby, Munoz Giron was able to feel closer to home. But she still had to adjust to the lifestyle and people at FGCU.

“I transferred here, and my first semester was tough,” Munoz Giron said. “Even though I could speak the language, it was a new life, a new place, a new city with new people and a new coach.”

One of the major things Munoz Giron missed about Spain was still an issue for her at FGCU.

“When I’m home everyone is surrounding me,” Munoz Giron said. “There is so much attention and love. Here everyone is doing their own thing, and they don’t pay as much attention to others.”

Munoz Giron stays in touch with her family and friends back home through Facetime and Skype, but said it is still difficult with the six-hour time difference between Fort Myers and Alicante.

Despite having trouble adjusting to another new location with new people, Munoz Giron started to find her niche at FGCU. As a result, her performance on the tennis court started to improve.

“She has become a fierce competitor on the court and is the type of girl that digs in and tries to get every single ball back,” Vernon said. “She is pretty stubborn and that is a big aspect to her as a person and getting better.”

Munoz Giron was named the Atlantic Sun Conference tennis player of the week on Feb. 5. She was the only undefeated player on her team in singles play.

As she acclimates to life at FGCU, Munoz Giron still misses home but can always be reminded of Spain by making a tortilla de patata or taking a trip to FGCU’s waterfront.

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