Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 16:10
Monica Bosiljevac has been an athlete all her life. UNO’s 20-year-old junior forward has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old.
Bosiljevac took that love and passion to the extreme last spring. Rather than stay in Omaha, she put the exhibition season on hold, packed her bag and went overseas for new experiences.
Bosiljevac’s sister, Marijo, encouraged her to study abroad.
“She always said it’s one of those things you have to do,” Bosiljevac said. “So I said, ‘OK. I’ll plan to do that at some point.’”
Her only requirement was going somewhere where they spoke English. Bosiljevac started looking at schools in Europe and Australia. Eventually she decided on Africa.
“I’m always this athletic girl. Everyone knows me as a soccer player,” Bosiljevac said. “I thought maybe when I went over there, it wouldn’t really define as much about me. It didn’t take long for everyone to figure out that’s what I was passionate about.”
Bosiljevac left for Gaborone, Botswana on Jan. 1st, 2012. The marketing major took classes at the University of Botswana at Gaborone.
With about 18,000 other undergraduates, Bosiljevac found the university similar to those in the United States. But little things were different, like the hallways being outside.
Classes and course material were similar to what she had experienced at UNO. The teaching style was the biggest difference.
“People’s phones would go off all the time. People would answer their phones in class,” Bosiljevac said. “The teacher wouldn’t really say anything. Teachers didn’t have as much authority, it seemed like, or control of their classes.”
Students would argue against completing assignments, Bosiljevac said.
“All the international students said, ‘If you have to give a presentation, you have to give a presentation. You can’t talk your way out of it,’” Bosiljevac said.
Despite being thousands of miles from home, Bosiljevac didn’t have trouble adjusting to the weather. Most of the time it was between 70 and 100 degrees every day.
“It was funny when it would get cold there,” Bosiljevac said. “I saw students wear hats, gloves, all this stuff. And it was just 70 degrees, but they could not handle it at all.”
College sports proved to be another difference. Rather than students paying tuition to attend college, the school gives students a stipend for attending.
That means there are no sports scholarships.
“I remember having a conversation with one of the track guys, a local, and he said, ‘Well, it’s just weird. In America you guys get paid to play sports and you have all these leagues and things,’” Bosiljevac said. ‘“We just play because we love it. It’s entertainment for us. It’s what we love to do. That’s why I run in college. There’s no incentive other than that.’”
Unsure of NCAA regulations, Bosiljevac didn’t play soccer for the University of Botswana. She did play recreation with some local men.
Soccer games were organized on the tennis courts on campus.
“At first they would say, ‘White girl! White girl!’ They didn’t trust that I could play soccer,” Bosiljevac said. “They adjusted and it was a lot of fun. They were skeptical at first.”
A few weeks into her study abroad experience, Bosiljevac knew she wanted more time in Africa.
She looked into volunteer programs. Eventually Bosiljevac found a street soccer program and immediately signed up.
When the semester ended in May, she headed north to Tanzania. It was somewhat of a shock to the system.
While Gaborone was a modern city, the city in Tanzania was much bigger and had a larger population.
“You would have pretty modern houses, pretty substantial, something you would see in the States,” Bosiljevac said. “Then you would see the run down shacks that people lived in.”
She spent her days in Tanzania teaching up to 20 children ranging in age from four to 16 at the Kuleana Children Centre. The Centre took in children who had been living off the streets after being kicked out of their homes, running away from home or being abused.