Imagine you are in a city 6,400 miles from home. The language is different, the culture is different and most importantly, you miss the local food! What do you do?
Skype friends and family. That’s what brother and sister Balsa and Nada Dragovic, from Belgrade, Serbia, and Gligorije Rakocevic, from Bijelo Polje, Montenegro, do. The three are currently students at Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, where Nada is a senior and Balsa and Gligorije (“Big G”) are juniors. Not only are all three on honor roll (with a GPA of 4.83, Balsa is at the top of junior class), but they are also outstanding athletes.
Nada and Balsa come from a family of athletes. Mom played basketball for the women’s national team in Yugoslavia (when both Serbia and Montenegro were still part of the Yugoslavian Republic) and Dad played basketball for the men’s national team in Montenegro and has been coaching basketball for over 30 years. And three older sisters are making their own mark in women’s collegiate volleyball --- Jelena at California Baptist University in Riverside, Nevena at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho, and Milena at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Balsa, at 6’9” and still growing, has always wanted to attend university in the United States. So, with his older sisters already here, he decided to get a head start for college by learning English and American culture. After being here for one year, he convinced his sister Nada to come to the States where she could also attend high school and play volleyball.
Gligorije’s parents aren’t athletes, but his sister Kristina earned a gold medal in shot put at the 2013 Junior Olympics in Amsterdam. At 6’10”, 17-year-old Gligorije has become a talented basketball player. And when he heard, through mutual friends, about Balsa coming to the United States, he decided he’d give it a try, arriving from Montenegro a little over three months ago (Nada and Balsa have a year or two head start).
These three teens have made a marked contribution, not only to Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary’s girls’ volleyball and boys’ basketball teams, but to the student body as well, says senior Marissa Ojeda.
“I think at first we thought ‘Oh, they’re from Serbia and Montenegro, we’re not gonna know what to say to each other,’” she said, laughing at the thought. “They’re just like us, you know, American teenagers. They like to have fun and go out like us; they’re easy to talk to --- they’re cool!”
Next fall, Nada will be attending California State University Northridge on a volleyball scholarship. Balsa and Gligorije will be seniors at Cantwell-Sacred Heart and have already been contacted by big name universities in the U.S. So, the future of these scholar athletes looks pretty good.
Yes, “Big G” misses fishing, which he loved to do back home. It’s true that Nada misses her friends and cousins, whose pictures she keeps on her iPad screen just to remind her of home. Balsa does Skype to keep up with his homeland.
And yes, the language, food and places are different. Balsa’s favorite quote is one by basketball great Michael Jordan: “If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
Clearly, Nada, Balsa and “Big G” are doing quite well --- and climbing, going through or working around whatever waits for them around the corner.