Natacha and Natasha; adjusting to NIU, U.S.

By Gary Sadewater

Adjusting to life at a university such as NIU can be difficult for many students, especially freshmen. But imagine what it is like for an international student to start out at a new college in a new country.

Natasha Koprivica and Natacha Kluft are two such students. Both play tennis for the NIU women’s team, and both have found it difficult to adjust to life in this country.

Koprivica, who was born in Yugoslavia and lives in Italy, has had a little easier time than Kluft. Koprivica, the No. 1 Huskie singles player, went to an American high school for two years in Rome before going to Midland (Texas) Junior College two years ago.

Koprivica said going to that high school her junior and senior years helped her prepare to come to the U.S.

“It helped me understand the American system of studying,” she said. “It helped me some, but not a lot.”

For Kluft, who is from Belgium, using the English language is a big adjustment.

“My English is OK,” said the No. 4 NIU singles player. “I speak and read it OK. But reading some of the materials is difficult. And it is sometimes tough for me to write what I mean. It can be so frustrating.

“I want to do my best at everything. With so many classes, there is a lot of studying. It was so difficult my first month here.”

Friends played a major role in helping both players discover NIU.

“Emil Bijleveld, who plays tennis for the men’s team, also went to Midland College,” Koprivica said. “He told coach (Patty Fick) about me, and she contacted me at Midland. She invited me to come and visit the college right away. I visited in February and made my decision in early April.”

Koprivica said there were many reasons she chose NIU, including being able to walk around campus without needing a car. She liked the tennis team and the coach and also liked the colder weather.

“In Europe, the weather is usually cold,” Koprivica said. “I love to ski, so I wanted to come up north.”

Kluft said she always dreamed of coming to the states. It gave her a chance to study and play tennis, something which is impossible to do in Europe.

“In Europe, we went to school 36 hours per week,” Kluft said. “School is competitive at home. The schools tell you what classes you will take for your degree of interest. You have no choice. There was too much studying to do. There was no time for tennis.”

Kluft said playing tennis on a competitive level is much different here than in Europe.

“Back home, we played in clubs,” Kluft said. “There was no team competition in high school or college. We knew all the members of the clubs and how well each of them played. We played on national teams, also.”

“The surfaces are always hard here,” she said. “It’s easier to hurt your back or knees. It’s a big change. I’m still not use to it.”

Koprivica and Kluft are roommates, and Kluft said the combination has helped her tremendously.

“There were times I felt so bad and frustrated, I just wanted to go back home,” Kluft said. “If it wasn’t for Natasha, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Both players said they feel fortunate to be at NIU.

“We’re really lucky because we both have full-ride scholarships,” Koprivica said. “The scholarships add to the pressure because we have to keep our grades up to keep the scholarships.”