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Howard Swimmer Navigates the Waters of Being an International Student-Athlete

Photo by Hunter Holliday.

Jamaica’s heated pavements did not prevent Howard University swimmer Jordane Payne from exploring the island’s bastion, the Caribbean Sea. As asthma extracted the breath out of his lungs, swimming was his source for healing. Though initially done in desperation, swimming became a desire for Payne. As a result, he landed a spot on an NCAA Division I program at the only HBCU with a swim team.

In the final year of his matriculation, Payne hopes to endure to the end.

“COVID and rigorous school responsibilities restricted me from participating in two full years of swimming,” Payne said. “Now since this is my senior year, I aspire to close out strong.”

Payne did exactly that at Howard’s historic matchup against Georgetown on Oct. 1. Payne swam the 100 free and relay as the fly leg. The Bison men lost to the defending Big East Conference champs by a slim margin of 111-113.

“I had never seen anything like that for a dual meet,” Payne said.

However, Payne is conscious of the lack of recognition for Howard’s aquatics.

“Some still don’t know Howard has a pool,” Payne said. “The swim team can have fast swimmers, and no one pays attention.” Payne wants the University to provide more access to swim classes so people can “taste the beauty of underwater.”

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Payne is not foreign to a lack of recognition. As an international student, he is facing a two-front tidal war. His sport and status do not attract the common eye. As a result, a lingering trepidation bedevils the Kingston native.

“I often think about that one recruiter giving me a graduate school offer, so the fear of returning home vaporizes,” Payne said. “Yes, life is easier as a student-athlete in terms of selecting courses and housing being provided, but as an international student, it’s hard. I have no social security. It is not a promise that I will be in this country after senior year.”

Payne aims to graduate from Howard with a double minor in German and mathematics. He is attending the university on an F-1 student visa. The visa permits an international native to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited academic institution. Students can stay in the U.S. for up to 60 days after attaining their degree unless they receive a job.

This concern is not only concealed in the mind of Payne but amongst the abundance of international students on campus. Seniors Danzel Knight and Trevonae Williams are Jamaican students attending Howard on an F-1 visa.

Knight regarded the policy as uncooperative, saying, “I think it’s unfair because international students do a lot for this country.”

Williams’ comments resembled those of her countrymate.

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“Some jobs just see international students as extra paperwork, which I have had to push past,” Williams said.

Payne admitted the difficulties of being in this position, but says that these barriers make him strive for more.

“It’s harder to get a job as an international student, but I have to apply myself,” Payne continued. “One can turn in 100 applications; I must persuade myself to turn in 101.”

Despite the challenges of embracing the Washington, D.C., cold, adjusting from meters to yards as the pool measurement, and a lack of coverage as a swimmer and international student, Payne yearns for young swimmers in Jamaica to persist in their ambitions.

“You are wanted somewhere, whether at a Division I or III school,” Payne said. “And understand this is not a sport you will be famous for but may the love of the sport drive you. When I am away from the pool at Howard, I miss Howard’s swim team more than swimming. Because their love for the sport is encouraging.” 

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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