Marit Westenberg, a sophomore at Fairfield, is not like the rest of her class.

A starter on the Fairfield field hockey team and a dean’s list student, Westenberg appears to be an outstanding example of an ideal college student.

But she has one more trick up her sleeve – she’s an international student originally from the Netherlands.  Juggling athletics, academics, and extra-curricular activities, Westenberg is a unique student driven to succeed while trying to garner as much as she can from her American experience.

The Mirror: What do you think is the weirdest U.S. tradition or concept?

Merit Westenberg: Americans combining everything with peanut butter! Peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and bananas, peanut butter and apples and peanut butter and chocolate! Reeses! Ugh! I don’t understand it! [Laughing] I also think it’s amusing when people ask me if we have Thanksgiving in Holland …

TM: What’s your favorite Dutch food that you can’t get here in the U.S.?

MW: Broodje kroket! It’s like a sandwich bread bowl filled with meat and vegetables. I also love Stroopwafels (Dutch wafer cookies), Dutch licorice, and poffertjes (small pancakes with powdered sugar and butter)

TM: Why did you want to come to school in the United States? And why did you decide to apply as an athlete?

MW: Because I don’t know what I want to do with my life! Schools in Holland are a lot more focused; you pick your major right away, and if you pick the wrong major, you’ve basically lost a year. Here, you can pick a variety of classes to see what you like, and then you pick a major. Or change it five times, if you want.

I love playing field hockey and I wanted to keep doing it, especially in combination with academics. I heard about U.S. schools that offered that at an information session in Holland, and decided it was the best decision for me.

TM:What’s one state in the U.S. that you’ve never been to that you would like to visit?

MW: I’d love to go to California or the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I would love to go to California to see the national parks, and to visit the big cities. I also think the Grand Canyon is something that everyone should see during their lifetime — it’s so majestic, and such a national landmark. I’d love to be able to visit both.

TM: How many languages can you speak? Why/how did you learn them?

MW: Five — Dutch, English, French, German and I’m learning Mandarin Chinese. I had to study the first four in high school in Holland, and I’m interested in Chinese, so I decided to take a few courses here.

TM:What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever visited?

MW: I once went to the Okavango Delta in Botswana — that was definitely weird! We slept in small tents in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by warthogs and hippos and elephants. The elephants would think that our tents were rocks, so they would either avoid us or step over our tents. But at night, if you left the tent to go to the bathroom and ran into an elephant, you had to be careful! You either had to go back to the tent immediately, if the elephant hadn’t really noticed you yet, or you had to lay down on the ground and pretend you were a fallen tree trunk so it would step over you instead of attacking you.

TM: What was your best moment, the most vivid and proud memory, of your field hockey experience thus far?

MW: In the U.S., it would be when our team played Boston University. I scored a goal and had an assist; even though we ended up losing, we played well, and it was a great game.  I also had applied to B.U. when I was applying to schools before freshman year, but they didn’t want to accept me because I only wanted to commit to their school for two years instead of four. That game let me show them what they ended up missing — but I’m having a better time at Fairfield anyway.

My best moment playing field hockey in the Netherlands was when my team placed 2nd in indoor field hockey and 3rd in outdoor field hockey in the entire country.  That was so exciting!

TM: Do you feel that women’s and men’s athletic teams at Fairfield receive the same amount of attention and interest? Is there any way in particular you feel that these inequalities could be improved/corrected?

MW: No, not at all. There is nowhere near the same amount of interest between women and men’s sports. Because if you’re on a basketball/soccer team, the school will promote your games with incentives of free T-shirts and other free gear — but they don’t promote other sports. You don’t see incentives to go to field hockey games, tennis matches, golf competitions or cross country meets. We don’t get the publicity. We don’t get the cheerleaders. We don’t have the dance teams performing during our game breaks. No one wants to come to our games.

As a team, we do better with a bigger crowd. We want to have people supporting our games too. Having a good crowd at our first American East Competition game would be great — it’s versus Boston University on Oct. 10 at 1 p.m.

TM: What’s the most important advice anyone has ever given you?

MW: My sister told me, “You should do what makes you happy.” I always care so much about others, and do so much for others, that sometimes I forget myself, and I’m the one that ends up unhappy. She reminded me I should do things that make me happy too, so I always try to remember that.

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