ORONO — The look on Laia Sole’s face was incredulous. The subject was lunch.

“We’re used to eating lunch at 2 or 3,” she said. “People here eat at 11 or 12.

“It’s crazy.”

Sole is a freshman on the University of Maine women’s basketball team. She is from Barcelona, one of three Spaniards on the Black Bears roster – part of an international contingent that numbers nine, seven of whom are freshmen.

Any student going away to college needs to make adjustments. But when you are going away from Spain, or Croatia, or Sweden …

Initially, “I just wanted to turn around and go home,” says Fanny Wadling, the only Swede on the Black Bears roster. But she’s rooming with a Spanish recruit, Blanca Millan, and now says, “it’s so fun with all the different languages.” Staff photo by Gabe Souza

“When we landed in Boston, me and my parents, I just wanted to turn around and go home,” said freshman Fanny Wadling, from Nacka, Sweden. “I was so nervous.

“New people. Different culture. Different language.”

Wadling is the only Swede on the team. Her roommate is Blanca Millan, from Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

“I took six years of Spanish, but it’s not very good,” Wadling said. “I can understand, and I know some basic conversation. But they speak so fast.”

In their room, Wadling and Millan settle on English. Sometimes, Millan stops to ponder everything that is going on, with Wadling and the rest of her team.

“When I talk to my roommate, I’m speaking English with a Swedish girl who is also using a different language for her,” Millan said.

“I am always with a person from a different part of the world. I spend all day with the freshmen. I’m with the Spaniards, yes, but I also spend a lot of time with the Croatian girls.

“I’m always thinking, ‘This is really special.’ ”

They speak fondly of Maine and marvel about the outdoors.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Anita Kelava of Zagreb, Croatia.

Laia Sole

In October, Sole stared at the autumn colors.

“I always take 10 minutes to walk to class but, in the fall time, I took 30. I stopped everywhere to take pictures,” she said. “Beautiful.”

But Orono is very different from Barcelona, which has over 5 million people in its metropolitan area.

“The first semester was difficult for me because Barcelona is huge. Here in Maine is very rural,” Sole said. “When I was bored, I didn’t know what to do. I’m sure there are a lot of things to do, but I didn’t know them.

“When I was in Barcelona, I just took a walk. A lot of buildings, a lot of people. This is such a different world.”

Naira Caceres participates in drills before Saturday’s game action at the America East tourney. Caceres is among seven international freshman recruits who come to UMaine from Spain, Croatia, Sweden and Canada. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

The winters are bearable, they say, even for Spaniard Naira Caceras, who is from the Canary Islands, which is closer to the coast of southern Morocco than to Spain.

“It’s like Florida,” she said. “We don’t have winter. When it’s 67 degrees, it’s too cold.

“When I made the decision to come (to Maine), people told me it was super, super cold. I told them I’m going there to play basketball, not to get a tan.

“Maybe it’s even good for me to learn to live in a different place. Living with snow is fun. Back home we go to the beach and build sand castles. Here, we go outside and have snow fights.”

The players blend together, with their common passion basketball, and the common language English – although the locker room can get a little hectic.

“It’s so fun with all the different languages,” Wadling said. “In the locker room, the Spanish girls will start screaming to each other across the room. Then the Croatians start speaking in their language.”

Maybe Wadling should start yelling out in Swedish? Wadling smiled at the suggestion.

“Sometimes I do,” she said.

On the court, it’s all English, although the Americans’ slang does not always translate.

“In the huddle once (during a game), I said ‘OK, we’re going to go on a run,’ ” associate head coach Amy Vachon recalled. “And Laia just looked at me.”

Laia Sole’s English is normally just fine. She is not the first of her family to come to the U.S. Her sister Judith is a junior forward at Duquesne. When Judith came home to Spain after her freshman year, she did the unthinkable – she ate lunch at noon.

“We would have fights,” Laia Sole said, “and I said ‘No, we’re going to eat at 3.’ ”

Sole, in a weak moment, will admit she is now getting used to a noon lunch.

But don’t bring up suppertime.

“We eat dinner at 10,” she said. “Here, at 10, people are sleeping. It’s crazy.”

Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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