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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga’s foreign-born players make alternative plans for the holidays

For a college student, this time of year means a break from life.

It’s a time to forget the stress of grades and homework. It’s a time to go home to familiar faces, to feel the comfort of a childhood bed and to finally have a meal that doesn’t include Top Ramen or pizza.

For Emma Stach, a junior guard on Gonzaga’s basketball team, this time of year only reminds her how much she misses her family. Stach came to play for GU from her home in Germany two years ago, so time with her parents and siblings doesn’t come about too often.

“I miss them a lot,” Stach said after Monday’s showing against Northwestern.

This will be the third year Stach will spend Christmas in Spokane. She said the trip back to Germany is not worth the hassle.

“The flight is so long. It’s a day trip, like 24 hours, and it’s just not really that worth it. It’s just really expensive,” Stach said.

Going home means spending close to $3,000 for a round trip to Germany and dedicating two full days of travel for only a couple of days to spend with her family. Stach wouldn’t have been able to fly out of the U.S. until Friday since the GU women played the night before against Colgate. Then Stach would have had to fly back to Spokane as early as Monday for practices because conference play starts on Thursday against Pepperdine.

But Stach wasn’t too upset about spending the holiday at Gonzaga. After all, she won’t be spending it alone.

Stach’s parents and her younger brother and sister came all the way from Germany to be in Spokane to watch Stach play against Northwestern at McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday.

“They’re always excited, you know, seeing me play here in front of 6,000 (people),” Stach said. “They’ve watched me here before so they kind of know what’s going on here and how crazy everyone is about basketball.”

Stach’s family has traveled to Spokane during winter break for the past two years to watch Stach play at Gonzaga. They arrived Sunday night and plan to stay for about two weeks, that way Stach has a little piece of home on Christmas.

“I wish I could go home because obviously it’s special to be home on Christmas,” Stach said. “But I’m so happy that they could come over here.”

Planning a trip overseas doesn’t seem to be much easier for any other student athlete whose family lives outside the U.S.

On the men’s basketball team, freshmen Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie will be spending the winter break in Spokane rather than heading to their home towns in Japan and France, respectively. Like Stach, Hachimura and Tillie didn’t have enough time between practices to go home.

“It’s tough. Obviously our kids from foreign lands here, it’s a tough gig for them,” GU coach Mark Few said. “Not everybody gets to go home because of the distance and all of that, but we do get a little bit of a break here, which is important.”

Przemek Karnowski, a redshirt senior, hasn’t been home in Poland for the holidays since his first year at Gonzaga in 2012. That year, Karnowski was only able to be home for two days before he had to fly back to GU for practice.

The following three years Karnowski’s parents had the same idea as the Stach family – they visited Karnowski in Spokane for the holidays so the time spent together could be a little longer than a couple days.

However, this year Karnowski’s parents agreed to make the long trip to the U.S. for the starting center’s senior night at the end of February instead. Their trip will extend into the first week of March so Karnowski’s family can also watch the Bulldogs fight for the WCC championship in Las Vegas.

Karnowski said since his family will be Poland, he will spend his holiday in Toronto with his friends. It’s the first year in college he has not had the opportunity to see his family for Christmas.

“I’ve been living on my own the last eight years, so I’m good. I’m OK,” Karnowski said.

Besides, Karnowski said he isn’t focused on Christmas this time of year.

“It’s all basketball every holiday, so it doesn’t really matter,” Karnowski said.

This is the first year Tillie will be in the U.S. for Christmas away from his family. But like Karnowski said, this time of year isn’t about finding time to visit family. It’s about staying focused at practice.

“My family is busy with sports too, so they don’t have time to come,” Tillie said. One of his brothers, Kevin, currently plays volleyball for the French national volleyball team and his father, Laurent, is the head coach.

“They’re always gone for sports,” Tillie said. “It’s hard, but I think I’m use to it.”

Spending Christmas in another country is not always an easy change, though. And it can be especially hard for the athlete’s family to get use to the idea of not being home for the holidays.

Stach is in her third year at Gonzaga and has had a chance to grow accustomed to living in the U.S. and celebrating the holidays in the Northwest, but she said her family has had to make some adjustments celebrating Christmas in a foreign country.

“It’s always different, like when you’re in a different state and celebrate Christmas. But … I think they’re excited to come here and having the whole family together … that’s the most important thing,” Stach said.

And it’s the only thing she really wanted for Christmas this year. Well, maybe a book too.

“Because I love reading,” Stach said. “But I’m such a family person and it’s an expensive trip for them. And I’m just so thankful that they could make it here so I don’t really … need a present. That’s just my biggest present.”

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