Imagine leaving everything you know, traveling thousands of miles, only to arrive in a place full of uncertainty. Just to play a sport that you love. You know nobody, and nobody knows you. This is a taste of what two players on the TCU men’s tennis team have been experiencing recently. They have had to learn an entirely new culture different from their own, a new language and even a different style of tennis.
Kriegler Brink, a curly-haired freshman, hails from South Africa, and Radu Barbu is a soft-spoken junior from Romania. Both players are still in the beginning stages of a drastic culture change. Brink is only a freshman, and Barbu arrived at TCU in January of last year.
Both said they chose to play tennis at TCU because of the great coaches and facilities the university has to offer them.
From a coaching standpoint, there is not much change in the style of coaching just because a player is from a foreign country, said assistant coach Jeff Beaman.
“There are a lot of things you have to take into consideration. It’s a whole environment change. Being foreign is part of it, but it would be the same thing if an American outside of Texas came in. He would be going through a lot of shock also,” Beaman said.
Brink, who cites John McEnroe as one of his early influences, began playing tennis at the early age of five years old. He said the transition from South Africa has definitely been different, but it has been a good experience so far.
Beaman said one of Brink’s assets that has helped him on the court is the fact that he is left-handed.
“It can be a big advantage,” he said.
“He’s got a serving style that is pretty rare, especially in college. He’s got a great serve,” Beaman said.
Barbu started playing tennis at a young age as well. He first picked up the racquet when he was 6. He started out as the ball boy for his brother before he began to play for fun.
Playing for TCU as a college athlete in the United States, Barbu has not only had to acclimate himself to a whole new culture and language, but also a new surface.
“My first semester was unbelievable. I am used to playing on clay courts and this is pretty hard to get used to,” Barbu said of the hard courts that American collegiate athletes play on.
Beaman said Barbu is very consistent with his play.
“He hits very hard ground strokes. He’s a clay-court player, but he’s also really developed his volleys, which has helped him in adjusting from clay court to hard court, which is American college tennis,” he said.
When they are not juggling school work and tennis, they find time downtime from the busy lives any student-athlete leads. Barbu enjoys watching movies, playing soccer and just relaxing when he is not on the court. Brink is a fan of music and enjoys going to concerts in his spare time.
Understandably, Brink and Barbu do not get to travel home very often. Barbu travels back home at the end of each semester, and Kriegler will get to go back home in December.
Players such as Barbu and Brink have shown courage in having to overcome the fear of stepping into the unknown. Going into a new environment is never easy for anyone; however, these players seem to be adapting just fine.