Intern Insights: International Spotlight

July 12, 2021

Intern Insights: International Spotlight

Intern Insights allows current departmental interns to share their perspective on topics relevant to their experience as an undergraduate student: italicized terms will appear in glossary at the end of the post


Part 2 Ousmane Sylla


I met Ousmane Sylla in May 2021. I’d made my way home from my day of class and workouts and was settling in for the arvo when I heard a knock at the door. Seeing as all of my teammates were, for the most part, home for our summer break, I figured I’d open the door to an RA. Nope. Sylla stood at my door after a hand with a math problem. Now I wouldn’t at all claim we share a love of math—and I was hopeless at helping him out with the problem. Since then however, a knock on my door has become pretty standard.  Sylla and I have forged one of the most competitive friendships founded upon introducing him to UNO and a shared appreciation for Chipotle.

Sylla hails from Dakar, the capital of Senegal, Africa. Speaking about his hometown, he shared, “It’s a pretty cool city, I live near the beach. About 16 million people live there.” Sylla started playing soccer when he was only 3 years old.  He and his friends from the neighborhood would play in the streets from morning until what felt like 7 or 8pm when his grandma would yell for him to come back inside.



Sylla home with his grandmother Ndeye Sylla.          Sylla practicing last fall.


First Steps in the US


He first started playing soccer more competitively when he was 15 after moving from Africa to the United State–. Sylla continued his education and played at Montverde Academy after being scouted/recruited to play at a more elite level. Sylla did not speak English when he arrived in the United States which was challenging because he was also experiencing culture shock. In response to his early experiences in the US, he said “it was very hard. It was tough.” In addition to different lifestyles and societal norms, he also was adapting to factors like new foods and acclimating to the weather. Like I said in my last post, grits, they’re weird.

Despite the challenges and adversity he faced, Sylla explained to me why he persists and continues pursue his passion of playing soccer professionally. Simply put, you have to sacrifice and “give what it takes” to pursue your dreams. For him, like myself and other student athletes on our campus, this meant moving away from his parents, siblings, grandparents and friends for an opportunity to compete against some of the best in the United States. However, I can only imagine how alienating it had to be to deal with a language barrier on top of southern slang itself which really is something else.

Sylla shared, “I love soccer, soccer is more than my sport.” He channels his motivation from role models he looks up to like Kobe Bryant for his mentality with regard to sport. His father Ibou Dada, is another big inspiration for him, as he taught him to always be the best version of himself, kind and respectful. The more time I spend with Sylla, the more I pick up on little golden mantra’s like “rest at the end and not in the middle.” Or my personal favorite “the job’s not done yet” to tell yourself when you are really digging in and gassed (exhausted) in a workout. I loved hearing about Sylla’s mindset because it speaks to the courage and determination of international students and, specifically student athletes, to achieve their goals. Like Sylla says “If you have a dream, you have to go get it.”

Sylla and his Father Ibou Sylla.


Dreams Deferred but Looking Ahead


Originally, Sylla was supposed to come to Clemson in August 2020 but he couldn’t get to America from Senegal due to COVID-19 impacting travel. As happy as he was to watch his team win the ACC Championship, he said it was frustrating for him to not be able to be a part of it. Sylla detailed that he chose to come to Clemson because of the great soccer program and coaching staff. He connected with their values reflecting the things he holds as important in his life including community, family and having a winning mentality because he knows this will drive them to future team success. Sylla stated “I am really excited to be part of the Fall [2021] season. I also really enjoy being at Clemson because of all the new experiences I have had off the field.”


Sylla playing last Spring.


From Sylla’s first steps in the United States learning English and experiencing American culture, to having to patiently wait to join his team last Spring to play, he has conducted himself with great character. But don’t be fooled, he is also highly competitive going by UNO as a standard or the card game Ganagui he taught me. So let his journey and the challenges he overcame serve as testament to me telling you, he will definitely be someone to watch this season when he competes in the Fall for the Tigers!


Much love brother!



At the lake!                                A Chipotle run when we got soaked in the rain, apparently                                                                                neither of us have got the whole South Carolina weather thing down yet.



Local Terms/Phrases/Slang to Get Familiar With


Arvo: afternoon.

After a hand: to help someone out with a task or issue/problem.

Is something else: to say something really is something else, you are probably perplexed by the situation.


Wolof, Translations

The Language Sylla speaks at home.


Ganagui: the card game Sylla taught me.

Diam: peace.



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