Rock Chalk Weekly: Coming to America
Written by Shelby Bettles, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Without thinking much about it, Americans expect a lot from each other and society. We expect advice from our friends, help from our professors, access to equal opportunities and common courtesy. Americans are essentially spoiled with civility and politeness, especially in the Midwest at the University of Kansas where eye contact is met with a smile and strangers at the library become study buddies or best friends.
This comes as quite a shock to KU international students who come from countries where it is expected to pay additional fees for out-of-class learning and basic assistance. This is especially true for Moscow, Russia, native and Jayhawk freshman women’s tennis player Anastasiya Rychagova, who is continually taken aback by the courtesy of Americans.
“Here at KU if I go to professor and ask for help, he will help me without thinking twice,” Rychagova said. “It’s very different in Russia, though. There is a designated place called Itvika, where everyone can go for help on any subject, but you have to pay for that help. Nobody will help you for free or just to be nice.”
In Russia, the economy is government-centered which is vastly different compared to America’s private free market. Rychagova says that this economic set up leaves people money hungry and void of interest for the well-being of others, unless that interest leads to a payout of some kind.
“It’s hard to compare back home to here because in Russia, every person just cares about money,” Rychagova said. “They don’t care about what you do, how you feel—even if you die, someone will be glad if they can have some money from you. Even if they can’t, they will find a way. That’s why it surprises me that in the U.S., you can go to the gym, for example, and ask for help and everyone will help you if they can. But if you go to the gym in Russia and ask for help, nobody will help you for free.”
This dramatic shift in atmosphere has surprised Rychagova in more than one way. Coupled with the surprise of being able to freely ask for assistance or receive common courtesy, she has also experienced difficulty assimilating to the caring culture of the women’s tennis program.
“It’s hard for me to accept help from my teammates and coaches because I’ve never received much support with anything before,” Rychagova said. “Even when I was playing very well back home, my coach stopped supporting me completely around the age of 16, as soon as she realized that I had hurt my back and was too injured to play tennis.”
Along with the lack of support that she had from her tennis coach, Rychagova’s parents didn’t swaddle her with help, advice and support either.
“My parents didn’t feel that I could play tennis well in Russia, so they didn’t support me very much,” Rychagova remembered. “They don’t know much about things outside of the home, so I used to do everything by myself—even simple things like buying tickets, asking for directions and playing tennis when I was young. Everything I did, I just had to do for myself, rather than for anyone else like my coach or parents.”
Considering the harsh lack of support and free assistance, the hands-off style of Rychagova’s parents seems as though it would be customary in her hometown. Rychagova’s self-supportive upbringing paved the way for her to be an independent woman, but caused her quite a bit of confusion once she left Moscow for the United States.
“I never really got support from another person, so when I came here, I was surprised that people started to care about me and do things for me,” Rychagova said. “Because I used to do everything by myself and for myself, I was overwhelmed when my coaches and teammates began caring about me and supporting me.”
Although she has come to embrace the caring environment of playing on the Jayhawk women’s tennis team, Rychagova has an unbreakable passion to be better than she was yesterday, regardless of who is cheering her on.
“If I do something, I like to be number one at it,” Rychagova said. “I want to do everything in my ability to be the best in the area.”
Rychagova has proven her passionate determination time and time again to not only succeed, but to also set the bar incredibly high. Between the ages 10 and 14, Rychagova was rated the No. 1 junior tennis player in all of Russia and was then ranked in the top 60 in the world from ages 14 to 16. Unfortunately though, Rychagova got injured. She remained in the top 60 for a while after her injury, but eventually stalled her tennis career because her thirst for success could not be quenched while she was injured.
“I still tried to play when I hurt my back, but I started losing in the first round all the time,” Rychagova said. “That’s why I stopped playing, because I realized that I couldn’t be the best.”
Two years removed and now healed from her injury, Rychagova has returned to the courts and once again has a passion for the game. She is working hard, along with her teammates, to flourish under KU head coach Todd Chapman.
“Anastasiya is extremely serious about getting better and developing as a tennis player,” Chapman said. “She is super competitive so it’s very important to her, but she also quietly and humbly goes about her business and to me, that’s impressive.”
Though she will not admit that her 11-4 singles record and an 8-3 doubles record are quite impressive stats to end her first semester of collegiate tennis, Rychagova’s honest persistence brought the KU women’s tennis team an abundance of positivity.
“She is the hardest worker on our team and now at the end of the fall, she is the best player on our team,” Chapman said as he reflected on the fall season. “To have your best player also be your hardest worker and the most serious about things is a great example for everyone else.”
In early November, Rychagova was selected to represent Kansas at the 2015 the United States Tennis Association (USTA)/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. Rychagova, the first Jayhawk to be tabbed for the prestigious singles field since the ITA began sponsoring the event in 2005, dropped both of her matches at the event, but learned a great deal from her experience and wants to apply those lessons to the rest of her team.
“In individuals, my goal is to just be as good as I can and play better in the Championships than I did in the fall,” Rychagova said. “Overall though, I really like my team and I want to do my best for them. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
The ITA/USTA National Championships weren’t the only valuable takeaway that Rychagova got from her first semester away from home. One of four international students on the KU team, she has grown tremendously in her short six months at KU.
“I feel like I’m not just strong as a tennis player—I feel like I’ve also become strong as a person,” Rychagova said. “And now I see life differently than how I did when I first came here. Everything has changed for me.”
Coming to America, Rychagova was surprised by the attitude and atmosphere of the United States, which couldn’t be any more opposite than what she is accustomed to in Moscow. From learning that people are willing to show kindness at face value rather than monetary value, to cherishing the support she receives from her teammates and coaches—Rychagova’s new take on life and the game of tennis is a welcome sight to the Jayhawk program.
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