Attending college at Baylor for the first time presents many challenges. From learning to live alone to balancing a lifestyle of school, work and a social life, it becomes a daily struggle for young adults.
But imagine coming to college from another country. Sophomore men’s tennis player Maxime Tchoutakian not only experiences the common college problems, but also a language barrier, different customs, and a culture shock since arriving in Waco in January.
Tchoutakian is a 21-year-old French native from Marseille. Although he did not compete in intercollegiate athletics in Europe, Tchoutakian received an opportunity when he was offered a chance to play in the U.S. for Baylor. He heard great things about attend- ing school in the U.S., and he is glad he got to experience it firsthand this year.
“For me, it was a good opportunity, and I wanted to dis- cover a new culture and atmo- sphere, so I think I made the best choice,” Tchoutakian said. “We all know in France that here you have huge facilities, a lot of money for the university, and the student-athletes are always recognized here, so that’s why I decided to join Baylor.”
Tchoutakian didn’t hear about Baylor on his own. With friends who had experience attending school in the U.S., he decided to go on tour with the Association of Tennis Professionals, or ATP.
“I have a lot of French friends who are players,” Tchoutakian said. “They told me always good things about a university. I was playing on the ATP tour, and it’s so expensive, but I decided to join to go here.”
The English language was a foreign concept for Tchoutakian until he learned how to speak the language as a preteen. Since then, he has tried improv- ing his speaking skills in his secondary language. It hasn’t been a smooth road.
“I learned English at school, but in France we don’t school [until] around 12 years old, not before,” Tchoutakian said. “That’s why our English is so bad. It’s because we didn’t practice at school. It’s only about writing, not speaking. For us, it’s hard when we came here in the United States to speak.”
A new language isn’t the only thing he sees as different. The sizes of buildings, stadiums and universities is unbelievable, he said.
“We don’t have this kind of university in France; even the top university in France is not like Baylor,” Tchoutakian said. “Also, McLane Stadium is really impressive. It’s huge and big. The only word I can use to talk about America is big. Everything is big.”
According to tennis head coach Matt Knoll, Tchoutakian has been able to adjust to the new atmosphere thanks to his positive attitude of overcoming any challenges that are ahead of him. His personality makes the difference.
“The thing that you notice with Max as soon as you talk to him is his maturity level, and his focus level is pretty fantastic,” Knoll said. “He carries that into everything that he’s done here: his academics, his role within the team, his work ethic in practice, the way he’s competed. He’s just a fantastic guy, and I think he’s going to continue to improve.”
It is impressive how fast Tchoutakian has embraced the American culture. With- out missing a beat, he is able to bring consistency to the men’s tennis program, senior tennis player Mate Zsiga said.
“[He] got here in January and the first thing he did was jump in and play, and it’s not easy to do, but Max did an exceptional job with adjustments from playing in a pro tour to college,” Zsiga said. “It’s different be- cause you work on a team; you don’t work by yourself. It’s definitely different, but he’s made really good adjustments, and he’s playing really well. He has a bright future here at Baylor.”
Everything is bigger in Texas, especially the food choices. Tchoutakian has noticed a big change in the types of foods that he eats on a daily basis, and after only a semester at Baylor, he found a burger that he has not had before: Whataburger.
“I love that place. It’s incredible. In France, we have a McDonalds, Quick, and now Burger King. That’s good too,” Tchoutakian said. “I’ve been here in Waco two times at Whataburger, and it’s just amazing. I love that.”
Amid the excitement of living in a new country for the first time, Tchoutakian knows when it’s time to head to work. He and the second-ranked Baylor Bears are on a mission to win another national championship.
“We all make good job here and we all fight at every match, every practice,” Tchoutakian said. “We all try to give our best, so I think that for our team and our coaches, [a national championship] could be the best thing that could hap- pen to us.”
Tchoutakian is not the only foreign player on the team. Several teammates originate from Hungary, Croatia, Ger- many, Chile and Colombia, so he has the chance to learn new customs from them. On the court, he will yell in several different languages.
“I say everything from ‘vamos,’ ‘come on,’ ‘aller,’” Tchoutakian said. “I can speak pretty much any language on the court, it just depends on the day what I say. It goes from my heart.”
Some things don’t always translate exactly how it is pronounced in America. As a matter of fact, Tchoutakian does not know how to pronounce a popular campus phrase in French. Sic ‘em Bears, what’s that?
“I have no idea,” Tchoutakian said. “Bears is ‘ours’ in French, but sic ‘em … I don’t even know what it means in English. I’m not sure.”
“I’ve learned to fight for the team because when I played on the ATP tour, I played only for myself,” Tchoutakian said. “Now, we play for the team. We play for the university, so I now fight for only myself, but for everybody at Baylor.”
The recruiting process is all about bringing in foreign players to experience the American culture, and Tchoutakian has now joined a family of men who have learned to call America their second home.
“We think Baylor is a special place, and to have guys come here and experience it is unique and wonderful,” Knoll said. “[Recruiting overseas] is a big part of what we do, and Max adds a ton to our team and our school. We’re still helping him grow and get used to this new environment, but he’s a home run.”
Tchoutakian will have the chance to be a significant role in the Bears’ quest for the 2015 national title, and with the NCAA Championships in Waco in May, he’s ready to give it everything he has. In the words of Tchoutakian, “Aller Bay- lor!” (Let’s go, Baylor!)
Story by: Cody Soto | Sports Writer
Photos by: Jess Schurz | Lariat Photographer