Going to college with your best friend isn’t unheard of, as having someone you know is often an important part of the transition to come. Two Braves from Germany can attest to that, and the mix of a pandemic and 4,500 miles of distance from home has made their story an interesting one.
Freshmen entrepreneurship majors Kwasi Boateng and Nicolaus Zurawik come to Peoria from Berlin, Germany. Friends since the age of 10, the duo has been playing for the same club since they were both about 12 years old.
Their chemistry on and off the field inspired them to make the jump across the Atlantic together.
“We both had this dream to come to university together,” Boateng said. “Bradley just stuck out because they wanted us both, gave us good scholarships … and [seemed] like a great place.”
Like many other European student-athletes, the childhood friends were excited by the opportunity to balance academics with athletics here in the U.S.
“We’ve known enough people that have tried to go pro,” Zurawik said. “Got injured, lost their spot on their squad, got thrown out and are now struggling in their lives. That’s the way we didn’t want to go.”
Coming to Peoria was a change of pace as most lower-level soccer in Germany was halted in March 2020, and much like the Braves, Boateng and Zurawik haven’t played a game since then. However, in the fall of 2020 they were able to train with their club, FSV Spandauer Kickers.
Arriving late meant most of the team had a head start on the pair, something that they are very aware of.
“We know that everyone on the team is fitter than us,” Zurawik said. “They had more time than we had, but we are still trying to get there.”
Though everything about America—from playing style to everyday life—can be a little brash compared to Europe, fellow German Gerit Wintermeyer has been a key figure in helping them adjust to both on and off the field.
“I was nowhere near ready to compete at that standard when I got here,” Wintermeyer said. “I want to be there if they have any questions on or off the field … Regarding language barriers, or systems, or set pieces, I want them to come to me … I want to give them guidance. ”
Wintermeyer and fellow German Malte Winkler both played a key role in helping the duo feel right at home, even before arriving in the River City.
“We’ve been talking to Gerit for the past year,” Zurawik said. “Both of them are really good guys … it’s definitely good to have two Germans here to help you with everything you don’t know.”
Arriving alongside his best friend, Boateng is grateful to make that connection with the two other Germans on the team, allowing him to have a smooth transition to life on the Hilltop.
“I wouldn’t know if I could make this big step without anyone beside me,” Boateng said. “I couldn’t imagine doing this alone.”
The connections don’t stop there as the two join the nine other true freshman Braves on the team also transitioning into their first year of college.
Looking ahead, the two know the young Bradley team has some work to do, but Zurawik is confident in the future that lies ahead.
“We’ve got a bright future ahead of us,” Zurawik said. “We’ve got some really good freshmen … We think we can win something here, we’re optimistic.”