When new players come from abroad, Purdue’s women’s tennis head coach does her best to make her new players feel as though they belong to a family.
Having team dinners and maintaining a family atmosphere are some of the ways that head coach Laura Glitz uses to keep her international players from getting homesick. However, the various communication tools have allowed her players better connections to home and family.
“With technology they can Skype and FaceTime and all that stuff,” Glitz said. “It’s a lot easier to communicate that way, but they don’t get to go home to their family.”
Glitz also pointed out that many of her international players are so well-traveled that the transition isn’t as difficult as it could be.
Freshman Andjela Djokovic came from Jindalee, Australia, to join Purdue’s tennis program and said that for her, the transition was easy.
“The thing is, when you first get over here, it’s pretty overwhelming (and) there’s so much to do so you don’t really think about the fact that you’re far away,” Djokovic said. “Especially because I’m from Australia and they speak English there.”
Djokovic’s transition was also made smooth in academics as she spent a semester taking classes at a university in Australia. She said that experience prepared her for handling classes and assignments before she came to the United States.
The Australia native said handling academics and athletics has worn on her mentally at times, but her schedule still allows her to balance both. She made her schedule so she goes to class in the morning and practices tennis in the afternoon.
When it comes time for her matches, she benefits from technology, which enables her parents to watch some of her games on the Big Ten Network.
“I still think about them a lot when I play,” Djokovic said. “I always talk to them about my results, and I can call them – it’s not that hard to reach them, although the time zones are completely different.”
Ricky Medinilla also switched timezones when he decided to leave Mexico and attend Purdue. The biggest switch for him was the food and weather, which is generally warm year round. With the change, however, head coach Pawel Gajdzik assisted him in the adjustment.
“When I came here, he helped me register for everything (and) with my dorm,” Medinilla said. “He has helped me on my tennis, and he has done a pretty good job.”
One of the Medinilla’s most difficult transitions has been learning English. The Mexico native is thankful that he has two other teammates who also speak Spanish: Aaron Dujovne and Diego Acosta. The trio joke about who can speak English the best, but most importantly, it helps Medinilla feel more at home.
“The first two months were the hardest, I think,” Medinilla said. “I have improved a lot, but I don’t think I’m fluent yet.”
Gajdzik believes that each athlete deals with a different issue when it comes to adjusting. He added, however, that the transition from overseas is a lot like moving from one state to another in the U.S., only on a larger scale. Student-athletes have to adjust to different things like culture.
The head coach said that the biggest thing for international students is the ability to go home. Just like for the women’s team, the men’s players really only get a chance to go home during the winter and summer breaks.
That is why, like Glitz, Gajdzik thinks it is important to have such a close-knit group.
“All the players go through similar experiences and they have either been there, or they’re going through or they will be going through (those experiences),” Gajdzik said. “It’s a big support mechanism, and it also helps that the coaches understand their situations.”
Gajdzik and his assistant coach Matija Zgaga know their players’ struggles from their own experiences. Both coaches played tennis at Baylor, but Gajdzik came from Poland and Zgaga came from Slovenia.
“I know what they’re going through,” Gajdzik said. “I always tell our guys, ‘I’ve been in the same situation.’ Whether it’s in school, in a different culture or even on the court and in the practices. We do very similar things to what I’ve done. We are very sensitive to what they’re going through and definitely our experiences helped us (to) help them succeed.”