Singling out a hardship applicant, the President’s Page of the winter 2011 issue of Barnard struck a strong personal chord with me. I was one of those young women who grew up in a small town, living a life of limited resources. I was one of those young women who celebrated receiving the chance and the honor to enter the gates on West 117th Street. My Barnard education led me to places I never imagined.
I had a student-athlete’s struggle worth experiencing. I received grants, financial aid, and worked throughout my undergraduate years. I played basketball, studied anthropology, and toiled at Levien Gym as much as possible between classes and practices. Our assistant coach Ula Lysniak ’87, had just started with our program and told us about playing in Europe, which sounded perfect to me. Being only 5’5”, I knew the chances of a continued career were very slim, but I decided to give it a try. With a plane ticket, my best friend (and Barnard classmate), a phone number, and a few hundred dollars, we ventured into unknown territory called ... my dream. What was the worst thing that could happen? Failure? I could always just go home.
Try-outs in different countries with different teams led to a six-month, semi-pro contract in Luxembourg. After a successful season with the team, they asked me to stay on for another year. It was (and still is) a fantastic opportunity to play competitively, meet people, and visit much of Europe at the same time. Although I did return to the States to visit friends and family, I decided to stick it out in basketball as long as my body would let me.
The sport lifestyle here has more of a “hobby” attitude; between games once a weekend and training twice a week in the evenings, we athletes have a lot of free time on our hands. The longer I stayed in the league, the more people I met and eventually I decided to get a job in addition to playing basketball. I coached youth teams, officiated games, and worked as a secretary for an international motorsport company. Eventually I became the executive assistant to the CEO and traveled across Europe for international races supporting Formula 1.
Enjoying myself in this foreign land, I learned as much as possible about Luxembourg, including the language and cultural characteristics of this small country, which is really a grand duchy. In time, I became known in the local community as a resource for other newcomers. I kept accepting extensions to my contracts and along with them came new opportunities, such as working in human resources for Delphi Automotive and becoming the international mobility manager for more than 150 expat families. I also began consulting for the league basketball players and coaches.
And in 1998 I became an entrepreneur, founding of Integreat Relocation Specialists (www.integreat.lu). We support and encourage those who also have embarked on the challenge of a new culture and a new career in Luxembourg. My company provides consultation and guidance for balancing the stressful changes a family will encounter, adapting to the Luxembourgish culture, and learning foreign languages.
Since those days as a hardship applicant, I carry my mantra with me always: “If I don’t try, I won’t know.” So I tried and am proud to say that my company is going strong as I celebrate my 20th playing season and enjoy offers to move into possible coaching opportunities. I’ve been told that it’s about time to hang up my uniform. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Barnard gave me the confidence to take off for Europe by the seat of my pants with $200 in my pocket. At that critical time in my youth, the College recognized something deep inside me and helped me to develop my strengths. Now I am compelled to acknowledge the Admissions office for the chance to prove I could reach my potential and surpass it—it’s a Barnard tradition I will carry with me always.
—by Charlene Schuessler ’90
—Illustration by Sarah Knotz