For generations people from across the world have looked to America for an opportunity to start anew. The Stier family is no different than any other that came to this country before them. They left everything they knew for the opportunity at a better life. However, Florencia Stier, now a sophomore forward on Ohio State's field hockey team had to forge her own path to a life in the United States.
When her father sold his textile factory and her parents eventually moved from Buenos Aires to Baltimore, Maryland, Stier knew it was up to her to find a way to join them in the United States. The political and economic situation in Argentina had been deteriorating for decades and Stier's parents knew that their best chance to succeed was to take a risk and move to the United States. Through the help of an Argentine friend already in Maryland, the Stiers moved to Baltimore in May of 2003, leaving behind their three children. Florencia, the youngest of the three was finishing the Argentine equivalent of high school and moved in with her aunt. Her older sister Vanina, who is now 30, married, and has a child, and her older brother Martin, now 28, lived close by, but for Stier, it just wasn't the same. "My aunt is like my second mom. In Argentina your family lives close together. My aunt was my mom and friend all together," Stier said of her aunt that took her in, "but something was missing, and that was my parents."
Stier had long had a desire to travel beyond Argentina and now with her parents being in Baltimore, she set her sights on joining them stateside. "I was trying to find a way to come to the U.S. My personal goal was to find an opportunity to have an experience outside my country. I felt like I needed to grow up, to mature, to find other people, to find other cultures, and try to find something different."
Stier knew, however, that she would not be able to bring that goal to fruition by herself. Coupled with the financial strain of her parents' move to Baltimore, due to the fact that the cost of post-secondary education is substantially higher in America than in Argentina, Stier knew that field hockey would be her only opportunity to attend college in the United States. Since few Argentine players get recruited to play at American universities unless they are on the national team, Stier sought out help from a friend, Marina DiGiacomo, a member of the Argentine National team and a forward on Old Dominion University's 1999 national championship squad. DiGiacomo advised Stier that she should first travel to the U.S., look at several schools, and then decide if coming to America was indeed what she wanted to do. As it was already late June, Stier knew that she did not have enough time or money to visit campuses before making a decision. DiGiacomo put Stier in touch with Inako Puzo, a former head coach of both the Men's and Women's Venezuelan National team, now an assistant at The Ohio State University. After several discussions, Puzo and head coach Anne Wilkinson, offered Stier a scholarship to Ohio State. Even though she had originally intended to find a small American school, Stier knew that if she didn't go to OSU, she would have to stay in Argentina another year.
After already having moved all of her possessions from her parent's home to her aunt's, Stier again packed her belongings and headed to Columbus via Baltimore. After being with her parents for the first time in three months, Stier started feeling exciting about her move to Ohio State, however, when the reality of again being away from her parents, only this time having no family around to support her, finally sunk in, Stier began to long for Argentina. "At the beginning I was very excited, but after a month, I realized I was really far away from home," Stier recalls of her first few weeks in Columbus. "I kind of got into a really hard time. I told my mom I was really missing everyone and I didn't know if I could do this." After her first season at Ohio State, Stier was convinced that she had made a bad decision and wondered if she would be better off returning to Argentina. "My parents and I visited each other a lot, but it wasn't the same. I started feeling really homesick. Then the winter started and snow came. I couldn't think about myself being here another year. I was telling my teammates that I needed to leave."
Despite her growing homesickness, the people around her told Stier that she was where she needed to be. The advice she was receiving from teammates and friends echoed that of her family, both in the United States and Argentina. "They all helped me to realize how important it was for me to be here and how important it was to be at Ohio State. They kept saying `look at the important opportunity you have there."
Despite being in a completely foreign environment themselves, Stier's parents did everything they could to make Florencia's transition a smooth one. Stier says that while it was difficult to get used to seeing her parents only once every few months, she learned first hand that if she needed them, they would do what had to be done to be there for her. "There was a weekend when I was feeling really bad and my mom just said they were coming." Despite her parent's insistence, Stier told her mom that they shouldn't spend the money to come and see her while they were still getting adjusted in Baltimore. "I told her it cost too much money, but they came anyway. They came here and spent time with me and made me feel fine." Stier is sure that the support her parents provided helped her get through the most difficult of times. "My parents have always been very encouraging in every aspect. It is amazing what they did for me, to help me to stay and be able to cope with that situation."
Stier also credits Leticia Fragapane, a defender on Ohio State's team and a fellow Argentine, with helping her adjust to life in America. Fragapane, an All-Big Ten selection last year in her sophomore season, came to America as a freshman and had experienced struggles similar to Stier's. "She really had a hard time the first year she was her, so she knew the way to help me out," Stier says of Fragapane, now her roommate. "She knew the things I would need. It was really helpful."
Now firmly settled in Columbus, Stier has come to appreciate all that Ohio State has done for her. "One of the things that I really give credit to this school is that no matter what's wrong with you, you always have someone to help you. For me this is one of the things I was not expecting to find, because I wouldn't even think about having that in Argentina at all." Stier also credits a sports psychologist at Ohio State's Student-Athlete Support Services for helping her understand the opportunity she had.
Stier knows that her desire to become a more mature individual is an ongoing process, but the trials her first months in America presented have affected her in ways she couldn't have foreseen. "I would say that the experience last year, with all of the hard times, I would not like anyone to go through that, but it was so helpful. It was so helpful to see how really important and how significant it is for me to be here. I grew up a lot, I matured a lot. I don't feel like a completely different person, but I know I found myself again."
Stier has taken this new found self-knowledge and confidence and used it both on and off the field. Stier is currently among the team leaders in all offensive categories for the Buckeyes, including leading the team in game-winning goals with three. However, the lessons learned might have their greatest impact post-graduation for Stier, who plans on following her brother into a career in Human Resources Management. "Human Resources is the business side of helping people and fixing problems. My experience has helped me in a lot of areas, but it has been the most helpful to travel and meet other cultures and other people to know how to deal with problems. To deal with certain situations that if you stayed in your own country or you stayed in your own place you would never get to know."
While Stier says she is far more comfortable with her surroundings now, seeing friends and family always helps. "I went to Argentina for a month this summer and that gave me the strength and all of the positive things to come back to Ohio State and spend another year here; to have a great season of field hockey and to become closer to the friends I had last year and continue with my studies. I feel really happy that the hard time is over."
Coming to America, Florencia Stier longed for the opportunity to better herself, even though she didn't fully know what to expect. She sought out experiences that she trusted would make her a better person. She came to the United States knowing very little about where she would be spending her next four years, but she overcame the adversity awaiting her and came out better for it. While she might not be tired or weak or tempest-tost, Stier has found a way to forge her own path to her American dream.