International athlete finds a home at Columbia College

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COLUMBIA - For Martha Imoniana of the Columbia College Cougars women's basketball team, the length of a basketball court doesn't seem that far. She's traveled a whole lot farther. 

Imoniana, in her second year at Columbia College, is from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"It had been for a while that I was trying to come play here in the U.S.," Imoniana said. "I knew how many opportunities I would get coming here."

She is just one of  27 international athletes that play at the school, but is the only one on the women's basketball team.

It didn't take long for her to fit in, though. Imoniana almost immediately became close friends with Petrolina Chilaka, a guard on the team. The two are now roommates.

"She's super goofy, super fun to be around, and she's so funny," Chilaka said. "She's a great addition to the team."

Columbia College Head Coach Jessica Keller said Imoniana is "a really enjoyable person."

"She knows she has a great opportunity here, and she's really taken full advantage of it," Keller said.

More than 5200 miles separate Imoniana from her hometown. Of all the differences that made the move a big culture shock, she noticed the weather first and foremost. 

"When it came to winter, it was so cold," Imoniana said. "I was not expecting that."

Imoniana spoke English in school growing up in Brazil, and said she has continued to improve with the language since moving to the United States. 

While her teammates and coaches have helped her adapt to the American lifestyle, Imoniana has also taught them about her own culture. 

Imoniana even got to show Keller a Brazilian restaurant while the two were in Kansas City.

"She was really the expert," Keller said. "She had a nice time laughing at me as I tried to pronounce the words."

Imoniana said, "She was doing kind of well, but, at the end of the lunch, she was speaking better Portuguese. It was fun to teach her."

The Cougars have taught each other a lot this year, both about culture and basketball. 

The team has a 27-4 overall record heading into its conference semifinal game Saturday, and Imoniana has played a big part as a regular starter at forward. 

Although many miles away from her parents, Imoniana's not that far from a family. She has one at Columbia College. 

"I've made so many memories here," Imoniana said. "The greatest part is my teammates."