NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma and Germany don’t have much in common. Christmas in Germany is known as Weihnachten and you’re more likely to see a person eating a bratwurst over a hot dog.
But thanks to Oklahoma Tennis, the two places have at least one commonality; they’re both home to two members of the team.
Senior Hermon Brhane and sophomore Zita Engbroks both moved thousands of miles from home to attend the University of Oklahoma and play tennis under head coach David Mullins. Though it meant leaving the country they had known their entire lives, it was a chance to do something they wouldn’t have had the chance to do if they had stayed.
“College is a great opportunity,” Brhane said. “You get a scholarship and can go to school and do tennis. You don’t have that opportunity in Germany. Once you do school, you don’t have time for tennis. Or you go pro and you don’t have time for school. Here you can do both and that’s an advantage for sure.”
For Engbroks, college at Oklahoma was a chance to get a better college education while still pursuing her tennis dreams.
“I wanted to study but the system in Germany is awful,” she said. “With my degree in business management, it’s a plus because I got it in America. Everything is getting more international and you need to speak English. I didn’t want to give up tennis and I can finance my study through playing.”
Though the girls spend nine months out of the year in the States, they’ve still tried to bring some of Germany with them to America.
“I talk to Whitney Wofford a lot in German because she knows a lot of words so we joke around with it,” Brhane said. “The team laughs at me all the time about eating fries with mayonnaise.”
“It’s so good but it’s definitely a German thing,” Engbroks said. “We went to a German restaurant with the girls but it wasn’t that good. They need to experience the real food.”
Besides having differences in favorite foods, Engrboks and Brhane have noticed a cultural difference in the way Americans dress compared to their German counterparts. The Nike shorts, running shoes and oversized t-shirts synonymous with college girls would be considered a fashion don’t overseas.
“You don’t wear leggings with running shoes or walk around in sports stuff,” Engrboks said. “You wear pants and a nice shirt or people would stare at you and think you’re crazy.”
While many international students leave behind means of transportation, Brhane knew she wanted a car while at school. Though the process of getting a license in Europe is similar to the process in Oklahoma, it is much more difficult.
Drivers are required to take many more lessons and also must drive more than their U.S. counterparts. The tests are also more difficult and the cost can be as high as two thousand dollars.
“In Germany it’s very expensive to get your driver’s license,” Brhane said. “I don’t have a German drivers license but here, it’s only like twenty dollars so I had to get it. I woke up one day, studied a little bit, took the test and had my license.”
The cultural differences aren’t just apparent off the court. In the world of tennis, playing at the collegiate level is quite different from playing on the international circuit. Because of the differences in school systems, there isn’t a chance for European tennis players to play in college if they stay in Europe. Athletes will either go pro and forgo college or go to college and give up playing tennis.
The other difference is the team rankings. In Europe, tennis is a more individualized sport where everyone focuses on themselves and their personal rankings. In American colleges, the ranking system takes account of individual rankings to build a more important team ranking.
“When I came here, it was just a singles game to me,” Brhane said. “I love being on a team though. You have teammates and you enjoy it more. It’s a better feeling being on a team. Yeah, you have your singles and your doubles and your rankings but now you can do both.”
“People cheer for you and push you,” Engbroks said. “You play your best with a team behind you. Where I played it was more competitive between the players and you didn’t support each other. One girl didn’t want to play with me because she felt that if I played with her that I would get better through that.”
One benefit the two have of being foreign players is the advantage of speaking to each other in German while on the court. Engbroks and Hermon play at the No. 3 doubles spot together and currently have a 5-1 record on the season.
“I have a hard time understanding Zita in English,” Brhane said. “It’s easier in German because it’s more fluent for us and we don’t have to use hand signs and we can just scream and no one knows what we’re saying.”
“I like speaking German though because it’s a home feeling,” Engbroks said. “It’s easier because you can speak louder and they don’t understand you. You’re actually not supposed to speak in a different language though. You can say something about your opponent and they wouldn’t know what you’re saying so that’s why you can’t do it.”
For Engbroks, having a fellow German on the team made the transition of moving to a foreign country easier.
“ It was my first time in America so it was nice to see Hermon and talk to her in German,” Engbroks said. “I had the feeling of home because there was someone who spoke the same language.”
Even though the girls live thousands of miles from home, they still make efforts to see and talk to their families as much as possible.
“My parents miss me so much,” Engbroks said. “When I’m here, my dad misses me a lot. They take vacations and come to Oklahoma.”
“I go home at Christmas but they don’t come here,” Brhane said. “It’s too expensive. They got used to me being away because I started playing juniors and coming to America but they need to see me at least once a year. If I don’t go home at least once a year, it’s tough. I need to see someone.”
While the girls miss their families and their homelands, they both know that they made the right choice in coming to Oklahoma to fulfill their dreams of playing tennis and getting a college education.
“I got recruited by Dave and I talked to him a lot and he invited me to visit and I saw the beautiful campus and the opportunities to study,” Engbroks said. “I met the girls and felt for me it was the best choice. I kind of fell in love with Oklahoma so I ended up here.”
“This is a Division I school and my old coach wanted me to come here and visit,” Brhane said. “When I came here and visited, I just wanted to stay here because I had a lot of friends here. I was like, ‘okay, it’s a Division I school, it’s in Oklahoma, and it’s everything, perfect.”