Ukrainian student-athlete says she finds opportunity in America

Freshman, Anita Sahdiieva, made the decision to call Baylor home after moving from Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Anita Sahdiieva

By Clara Snyder | Staff Writer

This past fall, Baylor welcomed 20,626 students to campus; 38.4% were minorities, making this the most diverse student body in the university’s history. Included in this record-breaking number was Odesa, Ukraine, freshman Anita Sahdiieva.

In the late days of June 2021, Sahdiieva was recruited to play tennis for Baylor 6,157 miles from her home country.

Prior to arriving at Baylor, Sahdiieva said the main challenges she faced in Ukraine were connected to her tennis career. Sahdiieva said her personal mentality was influenced when tasked with the pressure of competition when representing Ukraine.

“[Having] to represent your country in European Championships — that responsibility has influenced how I think and make priorities,” Sahdiieva said.

Although happy to be at Baylor, Sahdiieva said she misses and loves her home country. She said the culture’s present generation makes her hopeful for the future of her beloved home.

“I love the culture of Ukraine,” Sahdiieva said. “Young people see the world in a very different perspective. I think that’s what is going to speed up the process of getting Ukraine to a first world country from a second world country.”

Despite the struggle of adjusting to the language barrier, Sahdiieva said she also needed time to adjust to American culture. According to Sahdiieva, Ukrainian culture is very conservative because Ukraine is a post-Soviet country.

“There is a very positive mindset in American culture,” Sahdiieva said. “[In Ukraine], everyone knows how poor our government is. It’s the difference in how society responds to these things. We are apolitical; we aren’t interested in politics. But [in the United States], if you guys don’t like something, you post on Instagram or go talk about it.”

Sahdiieva said a main benefit of attending an American university is being able to get a degree while furthering her athletic career. This type of athletic opportunity is not available to her in Ukraine, she said.

“In Europe, we don’t have college sports,” Sahdiieva said. “If you want to get a degree, you have to quit your sport because you just can’t combine them. You don’t have time to do that.”

Because of the current tensions rising between Russia and Ukraine, as shown by the photographs in The New York Times, Sahdiieva said she considers herself very blessed to have gotten out of the country before this conflict erupted.

“Almost everyone I know who has relatives outside Ukraine or vacation houses or somewhere they can use to get out of the country, they get out of the country,” Sahdiieva said. “I might not go home for summer break. That is … terrifying.”

Sahdiieva said she didn’t want to leave Ukraine but knew she would have more opportunities in life if she made the move. Additionally, she said America is stronger in areas that matter to her.

“I don’t know if you guys understand that, but everyone wants to move to the U.S.,” Sahdiieva said. “When I got a chance to move here, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Should I do that?’ I was just like, ‘Yes.’ I feel like people complain so much about being Americans, but guys, you just don’t understand what you have.”

Austin freshman Alexis Wineinger, a friend of Sahdiieva, got to know her over the fall semester. Wineinger said Sahdiieva brings light to situations, and she has yet to witness Sahdiieva fail to put a smile on her peers’ faces.

“Anita is an incredibly joyful and very optimistic person,” Sahdiieva said. “She’s probably the most humble athlete I know here, and through all she has going on, manages to keep her passion for tennis and her teammates strong.”