Following in this edition’s theme of world and travel, we look to the University of Vermont’s men’s basketball team for a unique perspective of balancing athletics, academics, and a new culture. Germain Mopa Njila is a leading forward on UVM’s basketball team from Yaounde Cameroon. He joined the team in the 2001-2002 season as the first African native to ever play for Vermont. While Germain had studied and played basketball in the states for a short period prior to coming to Vermont, coming to the university still presented a great change.
Germain said he initially wanted to attend school in a city so that he could be surrounded by familiar people and enjoy a diverse setting, luckily he was not deterred by UVM’s location and remained interested enough to visit the university. “At first there were a lot of people who were telling me not to go to Vermont because it is cold and far, and then I said to myself, ‘far from where, I’m already so far from home’. I knew that I wanted to play basketball and have a good education- that is very important to me.”
Germain decided to visit Vermont on what turned out to be a very warm October day, which he described as beautiful but somewhat misleading. Ultimately, Germain said it was the attractive campus and kind people he met that made Vermont a clear choice. The adjustment to college life especially in conjunction with participating in athletics is inherent, but for Germain he also faced adjusting to a very new environment and culture. Germain saw the adjustment from a high school level of competition to a college level as the most imminent.
“Everybody [who plays] has to adjust to a college sport from high school- this is the biggest change- as a freshman you do not have that much experience, but the coaches understand and give chances.” He explains, “Basketball wise, I was very worried about how I would play and I wanted to do really well, I was looking to make a contribution to the team and to not make mistakes, and play more, I worked hard and it was a lot of pressure that I had put on myself- that season we started to see wins which was worth it all.”
His transition into American, and more specifically Vermont college life was greatly aided by his teammates, ” I didn’t have to worry about making friends, the older guys on the team were really good about making sure everyone was involved- especially the seniors and juniors they were very friendly and took care of the younger players in the beginning, and playing basketball at school made it easier to meet people. The team is like a family, they are like my brothers and that is a big thing.”
Certain differences in the game became apparent to Germain as the seasons progressed; he explained that there is a bit of a culture gap but nothing significant. “Back home we don’t have things like Parent’s Day, and I am fine with that because I did not have it growing up so I am not expecting it, and I understand that my family can not come to any of my games and I respect that.” Aspects of the game remain the same regardless of any potential culture barrier, “We all communicate very well and work very hard because we all want to very successful on this team, it is clear what we need to do to win, and that is to work hard and that stays the same for basketball here or anywhere.”
While Germain has been unable to return home for almost two years now playing on the basketball team has brought many opportunities to travel outside of the America East game schedule. While with the team Germain traveled to play in Florida, Utah, Nevada, and Hawaii for tournaments, games, and events. “It is always nice to travel and to see other parts of the US, especially while playing basketball and being with my great teammates.”
There will always be a small sense of culture lag but basketball did help him adjust; Germain concluded by saying, ” I cannot imagine life at UVM with out sports and basketball, it is the reason I went to school, to play and study, and it is an amazing experience and I am really thankful for having the opportunity to participate in a great program that has brought so much.” This coming Saturday you can find the UVM’s men’s basketball team playing at home against Northeastern.