Photo: Aleksandra Djordjevic (l.) and Teodora Tepavac of Serbia enjoy Yellowstone National Park in the first weekend of May. Photo by Marc Lamberger.
“We became best friends, we became sisters.”
It was a special feeling for Teodora Tepavac sitting in an airplane for the first time. In the beginning of August, she flew from Belgrade to London, England, from London to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then to Billings, Montana. It was an adventure to fly, and it was especially an adventure to move to another continent, to live with a foreign language.
Tepavac, 19, is from Kikinda, a city with around 60,000 residents in Serbia. She came to the U.S. to study physical therapy and play volleyball for the Northwest College Trappers. Tepavac is not the only Serbian in her team. She has a compatriot in Aleksandra Djordjevic, 19.
Photo: Aleksandra Djordjevic receives strategy from former volleyball assistant coach, Dante Geoffrey, at the national tournament in Casper last November. She was named to the NJCAA Division 1 All-American team last season. Photo by Marc Lamberger.
Djordjevic grew up in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, which is a two-hour drive from Kikinda. Both are freshmen. They didn’t know each other before their passion for volleyball brought them together at Northwest College.
Photo: Teodora Tepavac (r.) hits the ball at the national tournament against College of Southern Idaho in November 2014. Photo by Marc Lamberger.
“When coach [Shaun Pohlman] told me on Skype that Teo [Teodora] is coming to Northwest, I was so happy,” Djordjevic said. “I didn’t know her, but I was happy because I knew that I have somebody to support, to talk, to feel when you miss home.”
Djordjevic and Tepavac became close in Powell and spend most of their free time together. Both Serbians had the same challenge: to improve their English. At the beginning, they used sign language to communicate with their teammates.
“I knew a few words more than Aleksandra, but it was crazy in the first weeks,” Tepavac said. “Nobody understood me, and we didn’t know how to build a sentence in English. So we were showing with hands what we wanted.”
They improved their English a lot, and got used to living in a different culture. They handled their challenges together.
“We came from the same culture to a different culture,” Tepavac said. “It would be a different experience without a person who is from the same country. I’m glad that I met Aleksandra here. We became best friends.”
Djordjevic’s twin brother, Nemanja, lives in Serbia, so she used to have someone on her side during her childhood and youth.
“I’ve never been alone in Serbia,” Djordjevic said. “Teo is so important for me because we spend so much time together. We help each other for school, for practice, for everything. We became sisters.”
However, Djordjevic learned to handle more challenges by herself since she lives in Powell. She said the time has come to be more independent.
“At home, I had my parents and my two brothers who always help me. Here I have Teo, who helps me a lot, but I also learned to be alone,” Djordjevic said. “I need that if I should go to a university next year and no Serbian is there.”
She and Tepavac will fly to Serbia for summer break after graduation day. It’s Tepavac’s second long flight, and it’s a special feeling to see her family after almost one year.
Story update: Both Aleksandra and Teodora are now back home in Serbia. They arrived Tuesday, May 19 - the first time since ten months. They will come back to the U.S. at the end of July to prepare for the next volleyball season and their last year at Northwest College, where they will finish their associates degrees.
Photo credit: Jacqueline Hulse
Marc Lamberger, 24, is from Munich. He is a participant of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), a fellowship that brought him to Wyoming. A part-time student at Northwest College, Marc Lamberger has worked and studied as a journalist in Germany. He now works as a young ambassador for CBYX. His assignment is to foster the cultural exchange between Germany and the United States. He is one of 75 German fellows who live in the U.S. for one year, while 75 Americans have the same opportunity in Germany.