"When I came (to MSU) and saw photography (as a possible major), it just clicked." --Nubia Garcia
By the time Nubia Garcia arrived on the Montana State University campus in the fall of 2005, trying new things was a way of life. Less than a year earlier, Garcia's family had uprooted their lives in northern Mexico and moved to Orem, Utah, before her senior year in high school. She was learning English, adapting to the different athletic and academic demands of a new culture. Then, she chose to play college basketball in Montana, a state she'd never heard of before MSU head women's basketball coach Tricia Binford offered her a scholarship.
So when she was asked to choose a major once arriving in Bozeman, trying something new was only natural.
"I knew I was a visual learner," said Garcia of her decision to major in photography despite having never seriously worked with a camera, "so when I came here wondering what I was going to do (and) I saw photography (as a possible major), it just clicked."
Now a senior, the 6'2" star forward has transitioned from someone who was uncomfortable in front of the camera to one who is accomplished behind it. In January, the NCAA honored her and several other "artist-athletes" from around the country for their athletic and artistic abilities with a display at the NCAA convention and an article in NCAA Champions magazine.
That Garcia's work graced the cover of a nationally distributed magazine has marked the latest step in a remarkable journey from Chihuahua in northern Mexico and the comfort of her extended family to the Rocky Mountains and Division I basketball. When she moved to Utah with her parents and younger sister because of employment opportunities for her father, the language barrier presented an enormous challenge.
"I did not speak English," Garcia said of her first year in the U.S. "I would just walk around saying, 'OK, yeah, uh-huh, OK.' So that wasn't very good. I had a tutor most of the time (who) would translate for me, even in practice."
While the move was hard, Garcia said, "having my family with me made it a lot easier. I could go home and feel like I was back in Mexico."
After a year of immersion in American culture and the English language, Garcia felt she was ready for what awaited her in college. She was wrong.
"When I got (to MSU), I just didn't talk at all. I didn't want to say something wrong," she said. "I didn't want people to make fun of me. It was hard. I was really, really, really quiet my freshman year. My coaches say I got more outgoing every year. Now I'm just like, blah-blah-blah."
If the rigors of basketball provided new challenges, it was at least familiar. She couldn't say the same for photography. Even acceptance to MSU's prestigious photography program, which requires submission of a portfolio to pass the program's gate, wasn't a given.
"If I did not make it, I was going to have to change my major, and I did not want to do that. I remember being really stressed out about it and I was glad that day I got the letter saying, 'Congratulations, you made it.' I was so happy."
Finding her way around a camera was also a challenge.
"I didn't know anything about photography at first," she said, "I didn't know how to work the shutter speed and the aperture and all that stuff. That was confusing."
What wasn't confusing was her ability to find beauty in unusual places, such as construction sites and agricultural scenes.
"Here in Montana, there are some wonderful waterfalls and sunsets and everything that is just perfect, and somehow I wanted to show that differently. I wanted to make something ugly look beautiful."
Her approach to photography, she says, reflects her view of life. "I think that's how I look at things. Even when I shoot sports, I look more for the emotions than just, 'He's going for a layup.' I like (to elicit) emotions by the viewer."
While Garcia has never stopped missing her home in Mexico, the family she left behind, and "the food, I really miss that," she found comfort in Bozeman's thriving international community.
"My freshman year especially, when I lived in the dorms, I knew more people from outside the country than Americans. There is this international group, so you meet people from all over the world, and it was funny because we were all trying to speak this new language that we could barely speak. We had different accents and we didn't have anyone else, so we were trying to figure out how to communicate."
Garcia remembers the most important part of leaving home. "I got a cell phone right away, and I called my family a lot," she says with a smile. "I think we got closer when I left."
Now a Bobcat fan favorite, Garcia has navigated the language gulf, adapted to American food, and mapped a course into her future. "I really want to play professional basketball overseas for a couple of years" after completing her degree requirements, likely next December, she said. "Then I want to work as a sports photographer. My goal is Sports Illustrated, but we'll see."