Dancing In THON Half A World Away From Home
Across Penn State’s campuses, a little more than 8 percent of the student population is made up of international students. On the THON floor, however, just more than 1 percent of this year’s dancers come from abroad, with only eight of the 703 dancers being international.
One of these international students is Sasha Terekhova, a senior from Moscow, Russia who is dancing for Penn State Thespians this weekend. Even though she had no idea what THON was when she chose Penn State, she has since immersed herself in the cause.
“I decided to come to Penn State because I was looking for higher education obviously and my major is related to medical sciences — I’m majoring in immunology and infectious diseases and neuroscience — and those type of fields, especially research, are way more developed and involved in the United States versus Russia, so it was just a better option,” Terekhova said. So Penn State just kind of happened, but I couldn’t have asked for a better school to go to. I love Penn State.”
For some, THON is a reason in-and-of to come to Penn State, but Terekhova didn’t have any first-hand experience with the cause until THON weekend her freshman year after an exam left her off the Thespians’ third and final canning trip of the year. When Terekhova did get to the Bryce Jordan Center for THON weekend, the experience didn’t play out how it had been described to her.
Terekhova said many people told her she’d fall in love with THON the minute she walked in because that’s when they all fell in love with it. But for the Russian student who didn’t even know what a dance marathon was prior to learning about THON, it didn’t strike her as others had advised. It’s not that she wasn’t impressed with THON — all the people and the colors were really something to see — but for her, “that moment” didn’t come until the Final Four on Sunday.
“I didn’t really get it until the Final Four, and then the Final Four happened and it completely turned my world upside down. It was so unfair — how could [pediatric cancer] possibly happen in this world? I was so mad, and actually for a while I was thinking of going into pediatric oncology because I was still on the verge of choosing a career path.”
She realized at that first THON that the way she’d best be able to help in the fight against childhood cancer would be as one of the hundreds standing for hours.
“I told myself that somehow I need to get on that floor.”
Terekhova then found herself more and more involved in THON — she joined OPP her sophomore year and then served as the Thespians THON chair her junior year. Now a senior, Terekhova is right where she envisioned herself from the first time she figured out what THON really is: dancing all 46 hours on the floor. All that standing affects everyone differently, but Terekhova was mentally ready for the weekend and how it might impact her.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s harder than I expected it to be. I’m very much a realistic person and I always try to prepare myself for the worst rather than prepare myself for the easier things.”
Despite this preparation, Terekhova is relying on the Thespians THON families to help inspire her through the weekend. Her spirits were a little dampened when she found out one of the Thespians THON kids wouldn’t be able to make it to the BJC this weekend because she got sick and was a little too contagious for THON weekend.
“I’m really upset, but at the same time it’s given me a new perspective on the weekend because even though she doesn’t have cancer anymore this disease still affects her family and the decisions that they make.”
Though she’s one of only eight international students of the 703 dancers this weekend, Terekhova said she didn’t face any additional challenges in dancing because of where she’s from. “I feel very integrated into the culture,” she said. “Charity is not a huge thing in Russia — they obviously exist but are claimed by famous people. It was really very hard to believe that many students would unite to such a selfless cause.”