Hilltoppers from afar

Everyone comes from somewhere.

Whether it’s England, Israel, Serbia, Senegal Spain, etc., every person, regardless of their background or culture, has a unique story to tell.

That sentiment holds true for all the foreign student-athletes who decided to pursue their academic and athletic careers at Western Kentucky University.

“I thought this was going to be a very good place for me to develop as both a student and an athlete, and a person in general.” said Aleksandra Kozovic, a women’s soccer player from Nis, Serbia. “I think I made a really good decision.”

“There are so many good athletes in the team, and the school is a very good school,” added Maor Seged, a member of the men’s track and field team who came from Be’er Sheva, Israel. “I just decided to come here. I thought it was the best option for me.”

Throughout the various athletic programs at WKU, there are 27 student-athletes from 17 different countries playing in nine different teams. That diversity and mix of cultures has been beneficial to all the athletes and coaches involved with those teams.

“The more types of people that we bring in from different backgrounds that we can talk to and learn from is a true plus for all of us,” WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said.

“I think it’s really great to be able to share with people what you got, and to hear what they got is awesome,” said Moustapha Diagne, a Rufisque, Senegal native who plays for the men’s basketball team.

“For example, I have like 20 and that’s maybe 20 more people that are going to learn about my country and my culture,” said Kozovic. “I just think in a way it’s being an ambassador for my country, and I’m very proud of it.”

“Everyone’s different, so you get to know every one,” said Zeniece Charles Hall, a women’s tennis player who hails from London, England. “Where they’re from, what they’re like back home and stuff, so it’s not just the same as everyone else.”

“It’s great to get a lot of people from a different area of the world and kind of blend them together to meet one goal,” added Charles-Hall’s coach, Greg Davis, who serves as the women’s tennis coach at WKU.

Moving from anywhere is always difficult. But moving to a new country, away from friends and family is even harder, something these student-athletes came to understand when they first arrive on the Hill.

“It was my first time being away from home, so far away, and for so long,” said Seged. “It was a very hard transition.”

“We’re in different hemispheres, so just like the transition…weather and time and seasons was really hard,” said Deven Jackson, a women’s soccer standout from Auckland, New Zealand. “I was very overwhelmed.”

Now with new teammates and a new city, most of these players have found new families and a place they can call their “home away from home.”

“I feel proud because there’s a lot of athletes here, and we’re all together,” said Charles-Hall. “It’s nice to be around everyone.”

“Meet new people and everything, especially with social life,” added Diagne. “Great friends, great people, and making friends outside from everywhere else, not in my country, but everywhere else…it’s great.”

“When you’re coming from a place very far away from your home, you’re searching for a new family, and I think that’s what Western provided for me,” Kozovic. “A place I can feel at and call my other home.”

At the end of the day, though, these student-athletes are unified as one because they all call themselves Hilltoppers.

“It’s really cool to belong to somewhere other than where I’m used to, other than home,” said Jackson. “Just getting to live this experience is really something that’s special to me. To be a Hilltopper, that’s part of it.”

“Being a Hilltopper is just giving my best and represent the university as best as I can,” Segovia, Spain native and women’s tennis player Laura Bernardos said.

“I’m very happy to call myself a Hilltopper,” Seged added. “It was a great decision coming here. I can keep doing track which I love.”

The time these players spend in Bowling Green might be short-lived, but the impact they hope to leave on this close-knit community is long-lasting.

“With everything I do, both on and off the field, I think I’m just showing my identity,” Kozovic said. “I’m hoping I’m going to leave a good mark.”

“Just to love and come together,” said Diagne. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from—just love and come together. If we were able to do that, we can accomplish a lot of great things.”