SE: Language Barrier? Not in this House.

Roommates Tia' Gamble, Sara Savatovic, Laura Galvan and Iva Bago pose for a photo in K-State Athletics' West Stadium Center.

When track and field senior Sara Savatovic returns to her apartment after a long day of school and training, she has a decision to make. It’s not what she’s going to have for dinner or which upcoming test she wants to start studying for first. Rather, Savatovic gets to decide what language she feels like speaking. 

The hammer thrower from Crvenka, Serbia, rooms with three other Wildcat student-athletes: track and field sprinter Tia’ Gamble, former cross country runner Laura Galvan and tennis player Iva Bago. 

Though Serbian is Savatovic’s native language, she is minoring in Spanish and can speak English fluently after spending the past four years at K-State. While being trilingual certainly has its challenges, Savatovic’s living situation makes it easier. 

Whether she’s staying sharp in her native language speaking Serbian/Croatian with Bago, improving her Spanish skills with Galvan or bettering her English with Gamble, Savatovic knows she’ll always have her roommates to lean on. 

Senior Tia’ Gamble is from Desoto, Texas, and since English is the most often spoken language in the apartment, Gamble is often looked to as the mediator. 

“Sometimes it’ll be just us and we’ll say, ‘We need an American!’” laughed Galvan, “and there is nobody to ask about something, so we have to wait until Tia’ gets home.” 

The group nodded in agreement; situations like this have, obviously, happened a time or two. 

“But I think it’s funny when three of us talk without Tia’,” added Bago. “When we talk, we might say something wrong; we understand it, but we wouldn’t know that it isn’t correct grammar, then Tia’ comes in and says, ‘What in the world is going on?’” 

“Sometimes we don’t know what we say and it could maybe be funny or even offensive, but Tia’, she helps us,” explained Savatovic. “Americans have some short words and some sentences that have a different meaning; what are those called?” 

Gamble smiled and piped in, “Slang?” 

“Yes! The slang!” Savatovic exclaimed. “We don’t understand slang sometimes, so Tia’ will translate it for us.” 

While Gamble spends a lot of time helping her three roommates with their English, she said it’s a fair trade, simply for the amount of culture she’s had the opportunity to learn about spending time with her roommates. 

“There are certain words or American phrases that they may not be aware of, but I don’t mind helping them out and telling them what it all means,” said Gamble. “They blow my mind every day. All their conversations, sometimes I don’t even know what to say! But it’s been really interesting. I think more people should live with internationals on campus because you do learn a lot more about other people and other cultures. It’s been really special and really eye opening.” 

Laura Galvan was K-State cross country’s top runner from 2011-14. She’s from Guanajuato, Mexico, and when she first met Savatovic, she was surprised to find out her Serbian roommate spoke Spanish. 

“I knew she was from Serbia, but then when we met she started talking to me in Spanish,” said Galvan, “and she was really good at Spanish. Like, really good. It surprised me and made me wonder why someone from another part of the world speaks Spanish like me.” 

While Savatovic is now minoring in the language, she got her first taste of it watching soap operas in Spanish. She wanted to understand what they were saying, so she began learning. 

“I had watched Mexican soap operas when I was at home, then when I got here, since Laura is from Mexico, it became a way we could bond because we watch them together,” explained Savatovic. “But now we watch them when the other roommates are not around, because they can get annoying to watch if you don’t know what is going on.” 

The group laughed. Savatovic and Galvan have been roommates the longest as the two have been living together – and watching soap operas together – for the past three years. 

“It’s been great. I have tutors in Spanish, but I like Laura because she can correct me,” said Savatovic. “I tell her on the way to training table, ‘Let’s talk in Spanish,’ and we just talk and that’s the way I practice.” 

“And we sing! She knows so many Spanish songs,” Galvan said with a smile. 

Where did Savatovic learn these songs? From the soap operas, of course. 

Living 5,000 miles from home can get lonely sometimes, especially if no one speaks your native language. For Iva Bago, of Velika Gorica, Croatia, her first year at K-State was spent living with roommates who all spoke different languages. She didn’t know anyone at K-State who she could speak Croatian with until she met Savatovic. 

“It’s called Serbian and Croatian language, but it’s almost the same,” explained Bago. “We can talk to each other and understand each other. It’s basically the same language, just some words and accents are a bit different.” 

“I like it because sometimes, speaking to her I feel like I’m home,” said Savatovic. “I know I won’t forget my language because I have the opportunity to speak Serbian with Iva.” 

Bago moved in with Savatovic, Galvan and Gamble last fall, and has since been enjoying the luxury of sitting back and speaking in her own language with someone who understands. 

“My freshman year in the dorms, I didn’t know anyone that could speak my language,” continued Bago. “Then my sophomore year I was in an apartment with two teammates who were also international, but we didn’t speak the same language either. I became friends with Sara halfway through my freshman year, but when I decided to move in with her, it was really nice because now we can talk more often.” 

The comfort of feeling like they’re home has been great, but there are other plusses to speaking a language no one else understands. 

“It’s good when we want to gossip or something, we can just do it in our language!” Savatovic said. 

More laughter filled the room. 

Though these four roommates came to K-State from all over the world, today, they couldn’t be any closer. 

“The thing that I really like is that with us, we’re all from so many different places, but I feel like they’re my family,” said Savatovic. “We are so far away from home, so these are the people we hang out with the most. They’re my best friends.” 

Being an international student-athlete is not always easy. However, if surrounded by a good group of people, the friendship, adventure and cultural knowledge gained make the experience well worth it. 

“We don’t get to go home but every six months, maybe just once every year,” added Galvan. “So sometimes it’s harder for us being here away from our family. But then when you get closer to the end (of your time at K-State), you realize that these were your friends, but now they’re your family because you’ve built such strong relationships with them. They understand you and know what it’s like to come here from different parts of the world. 

“Sometimes, all you have is them, but that’s pretty cool.”

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh-Stewart, or K-State Associate AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.