USD international athletes share unique obstacles and opportunities adjusting to American culture.
Tomas Kamenik, Jana Lazarevic and Anastasiia Bondarenko are three international athletes overcoming challenges and exploring new opportunities on their journey at USD.
Tomas Kamenik, a senior business and accounting major, came to Vermillion from his hometown in Prague, Czech Republic to compete on the men’s track team. Kamenik ran track growing up in Prague but moved to Vermont his senior year of high school where he competed in the 400-yard dash and hurdles.
“I spent my senior year in Vermont at a boarding school, and I really liked the United States and the educational system, so my advisor and I were looking for colleges but every school was very expensive on the east coast,” Kamenik said. “We came across two cheap schools in South Dakota, so I looked up some pictures of USD and here I am.”
Kamenik saw success while running track in Vermont and wanted to continue his athletic career when he arrived at USD, where he went on to make the team his freshman year.
Kamenik said there are many cultural differences between America and Czech Republic, but religion is the most significant difference.
“In Czech Republic, roughly 80 percent of people are atheist, but when I moved to America, I noticed a lot of people here are Christian and follow religion,” Kamenik said.
While Kamenik experienced cultural shock, he felt welcomed in America since his arrival with the help of students and teammates on the track team.
“I’ve never had trouble transitioning because everyone here is super nice and accepting,” Kamenik said. “Fortunately, I’ve never felt real homesick in America.”
Lazarevic and Bondarenko said they feel competition levels at USD are similar to their home countries, while Kamenik noticed there’s a much deeper pool of talented athletes in America.
“In Czech the field of talent is more narrow, but in the United States there is so many good track athletes we compete against from many different schools,” Kamenik said.
Kamenik will graduate in May and he said he hopes to move to the United Kingdom to begin his professional career at Goldman Sachs.
“Getting the opportunity to travel with my track teammates to states like Arizona, Texas and California to name a few, has been so much fun,” Kamenik said. “I love America and it’s been great calling it home.”
A difficult transition
Jana Lazarevic, a first-year kinesiology major, is from Belgrade, Serbia and plays for the USD women’s tennis team. Lazarevic was recruited to the USD tennis program thanks, in part, to YouTube.
“I had a YouTube channel that coaches contacted me through by sending scholarship offers and requests to come visit,” she said.
Lazarevic said the transition to America has been difficult.
“It’s been hard because people are so different in America than my home country,” Lazarevic said. “The worst part was leaving my parents and friends; I was very scared to go through everything alone.”
Although adjusting to life in America has been difficult for Lazarevic, she said she enjoys the freedom and the laid back mentality in the United States.
“In Serbia when you get out on the street people look at you and judge, but in America no one cares how you present yourself,” Lazarevic said. “That’s one difference I really love.”
Adjusting with teammates
Junior Anastasiia Bondarenko, a junior kinesiology and sports science major, came to USD from Odessa, Ukraine on a scholarship for the women’s tennis team.
“I learned about the university through a girl from my country, and I talked to the coach who was very nice,” Bondarenko said. “I really liked the university and the tennis program compared to other colleges.”
Bondarenko sent a highlight video and spent three months corresponding with USD tennis coaches through Skype.
“While I was waiting for my SAT test results, I would talk to the coaches on a regular basis,” she said.
Bondarenko said she also enjoys the fast-paced busy lifestyle and convenience in America.
“I really enjoy being with my teammates, which helped me adjust to America,” she said.