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Virginia rowing sophomore Fiona Schlesinger (New Malden, England) recently talked to about coming to UVa from across the pond and the differences between Charlottesville and England.

How have the spring practices gone so far?
Spring has started well. It really kicks off this week as we do two-a-days during spring break, while everyone else has the week off. We’re trying to put ourselves in the best physical shape and Coach Kevin (Sauer) has been working on the technical side, so we’re making sure we keep an eye on both sides and it all comes together.

With the first scrimmage Saturday (March 10), are you ready to get on the water and compete?
Definitely, we’ve been training basically since August and this week is huge marker of where we kick off. We’ve done enough indoor training, so we’re ready to get out there and row and race, that’s what we’re here to do!

How did you get into rowing?
My brother rowed at his high school in England, but I waited a couple of years and played other sports like lacrosse and field hockey. One day I tried it, and the coach said, “Oh, you could be good!” I tried it a few more times and then it was a battle of which sport I would pick. Rowing is that crazy sport where it could be a bit more challenging, so I thought, “let’s see how it pans out.” It’s paid off really well, since I’m here, so it was definitely a good decision.

How did you end up at Virginia?
I was on the (English) national team for three years and had some friends from the boys’ team that went to Harvard, so I thought that if they could do it, so could I. I wanted a university that was great both academically and in the sports’ facility side, which lacks in England. I asked around to see what the top schools in rowing were recently, and UVa was a top-five team that I had never heard of before. I emailed Kevin about me and my stats and he said, “cool, come on over.” I hadn’t even applied to any English universities; I was set on coming to America. My dad always travels and I knew I wanted to get out and try something new.

What is it like going to school across an ocean from home?
People find it strange, because I still speak English, a different version, but still English. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but a great one. I’ve enjoyed it so much. I live with three great girls and the team has made it so easy for me to slip right into the system. We had a few translation issues at the beginning of the year and have a few that pop up that amuse everyone, but I’m so grateful to be here. Plus, my mom can come over a couple times a year if she’s free, so we’ve found a great balance.

What is the best part of Charlottesville that you do not have back home?
I love how Charlottesville surrounds the University. It provides a great sense of community and stronger atmosphere between the students, which wouldn’t be found back home in England. I feel that this definitely secured my desire to travel ‘across the pond’ and study here at UVa.

What is your favorite part of Grounds?
You can’t beat the Rotunda and the Lawn, it’s just an icon. As little as I know about American history, I still know they’re important. It’s great walking on Grounds with the unison of the buildings and their architecture. It’s very special.

What are your plans after UVa? Any more plans to row for England?
I’m definitely thinking about staying for grad school and taking advantage of the opportunity of being over here in America. Everyone is shocked, but I’m thinking of staying here for at least my first job as well. I know rowing isn’t going to last a lifetime and I’m more focused on my team and me personally, but if it translates well into the British system, I’m never going to turn down rowing for my home country. I’ve done it once and it was absolutely amazing.

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