BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
As images of revolutionaries clashing with loyalist forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have been flashing across television and computer screens in recent weeks, Mezie Nwigwe ’10 has been paying special attention.
“It’s crazy to see such a beautiful country go through what they’re going through right now,” says the former Colonials men's basketball player, who spent four months overseas playing in the Libyan Arab Basketball Federation.
“When I was there, I saw no signs of oppression at all, at least from what I could tell,” he says. “Everything was always so calm, and the people always seemed so happy and proud of their country. And if anyone ever said anything about Gaddafi, it was always something positive.”
As for his old teammates in Libya, Nwigwe still stays in touch with them. “I made some good friends while I was there,” he says. “I talk to them on Skype every chance I get.”
Nwigwe (pronounced new-ig-way), who played shooting guard/small forward for RMU, signed on to play for Al Nasr Benghazi in August, after graduating with a B.S.B.A in hospitality and tourism. He says the biggest challenges were communicating and adapting to Libyan culture.
“Being that it was a 98% Muslim country, their culture was totally different, and the Arabic language is certainly not one of the easiest languages to pick up,” he says. “But after a while everything started falling together.”
Nwigwe’s least favorite thing was not having access to fast food. “The food was pretty good but not what I was used to at all. They ate more traditional food—in other words, more healthy.”
One thing he liked was that everything in Libya was so cheap. “I could go to the grocery store and buy $200 worth of food for $60, which was great,” he says.
Nwigwe returned home to Bowie, Md., in December to take care of a foot injury and was scheduled to go back, but says he’ll have to look elsewhere to go play in light of the country’s current state of unrest.
Jeremy Chappell ’09, another former member of the men’s basketball team, now plays shooting guard for Hoverla Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine.
“Playing overseas is a hard adjustment because you are leaving your comfort zone in the states,” he says. “But once you realize you are getting paid to play the sport you love, and you see the atmosphere and the crazy fans, there is no better feeling.”
A native of Cincinnati, Chappell also majored in hospitality and tourism, and, initially, he too found the transition overseas somewhat challenging.
“It took me the whole preseason of my first year to truly adjust,” he says. “The style of European basketball is different. There are more shooters than penetrators, and the help defense is not like college ball. My first preseason game, I traveled probably five times.”
He says the biggest challenge was adjusting to the culture. “The hardest thing for me and probably everybody is the communication barrier. It's frustrating trying to explain to a taxi where you need to go, when they don't understand English and you don't understand Russian.”
But despite these obstacles, Chappell credits RMU for preparing him for whatever challenges he’s faced. “When you come to Europe, you are on your own,” he says. “My time at RMU helped me to become independent. It was a stepping stone to becoming a man.”
Chelsea Miazgowicz '10, a Moon Township native and former member of RMU’s women’s soccer team, is now playing in England on a scholarship at Durham University while pursuing her master’s degree in education.
“I think playing soccer in England is every soccer player's dream,” she says. “All the coaches I have worked with have been extremely helpful and understanding, so I have enjoyed every moment of playing here in England.”
Miazgowicz says the only problems she’s encountered have been—surprisingly—with the language barrier. “Over here, soccer is football, cleats are boots, pennies are bibs, the turf field is the rubber crumb,” she says. “Little things like that.”
While at RMU, Miazgowicz became friends with students from over the world, which she says has helped her in her own international experience. “Because I was surrounded with students who left their home countries to come to RMU, and they had such positive experiences, I felt more confident to do the same.”
Christian Boucher ’08 played goalie on the men’s hockey team while majoring in business management. He also earned a master’s in competitive intelligence. Today he is playing for the the Hull Stingrays of the British National League.
“I have been extremely fortunate to be able to continue playing professional hockey after my college days,” he says. “I am enjoying myself more than ever and getting to see parts of the world I would of only dreamed of, while at the same time getting paid to do what I love the most—play hockey.
Boucher played his first year of professional hockey in South Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees; after that some agents contacted him about playing overseas. Last season he played in the city of Nijmegen in The Netherlands.
A native of Ottawa, Boucher says the game in the U.K. is a bit different and less physical. “There’s a lot more scoring chances and more of a run-and-gun type of game,” he says. “It took a couple of games to get used to it, but I enjoy it a lot.”
Boucher says his four years at RMU were the best of his life. “Getting my education and playing hockey at the same time prepared me for almost anything,” he says. “Being able to balance academics and hockey, I learned to manage time well. And playing at the NCAA level helped my hockey career enormously, since it’s such a high-level, up-tempo game. “
Other former RMU athletes making a name for themselves outside the United States: