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Emilija Đorđević combines basketball with a study Spatial Planning and Design at the UG: “I’m working hard to manage everything. That takes time.”

Date:20 December 2021
Author:Groningen Topsportstudiestad
Emilija Đorđević
Emilija Đorđević

This season, 19-year-old Emilija Đorđević started playing basketball for the Keijser Capital Martini Sparks. The team competes in the Women's Basketball League – the highest level in The Netherlands. In addition to playing basketball, Emilija studies Spatial Planning and Design at the UG. It was a big step to move from her home country of Serbia to Groningen: “Everything was different from what I was used to. I wasn’t aware of that.”

Earlier this year, Emilija was looking for a university outside of Serbia. In Thessaloniki, Greece, she was first introduced to the UG. “It was at an Open Day for Dutch universities,” Emilija says. “I went from one university to another. At one point, I knew I was not going to choose a big touristic city. I wanted a city where I could really feel the student environment.” In Thessaloniki, Emilija got in contact with a representative of the UG. “She also played basketball,” Emilija remembers. “At that moment, I knew I had to go to Groningen. I don’t really believe in destiny, but I guess sometimes it has to be destiny.”


At the UG, Emilija studies Spatial Planning and Design. “Groningen has one of the few universities with a Spatial Planning and Design faculty. Why did I choose this study? That’s because I’m really interested in the environment. Not just the physical environment but also on a social and institutional level. I think I couldn’t have picked a better place to study this.” Thanks to that same representative of the UG, Emilija got in contact with the Martini Sparks, and on August 16 she was presented as the team’s new forward.

‘It might sound funny but the eating schedule is different as well’

Things were looking pretty good for Emilija when she arrived in Groningen, but the first few months in the capital of the Northern Netherlands were not easy for her. “It was a shock,” she admitted. “I wasn’t prepared and I underestimated coming here. I thought: ‘I played basketball in Serbia and I was used to studying, so when I arrive in Groningen I will just continue to do that.’ But it was a complete change for me. Everything was different from what I was used to. I wasn’t aware of that beforehand.”

“The biggest difference between Serbia and The Netherlands is the way of life,” she continues. “The transportation system is quite different with all these bicycles, and also the way Dutch people use their time clashed with what I was used to. It might sound funny but the eating schedule is different as well. Here you have separate eating sessions: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I really had to get used to that.”


All the changes made it difficult for Emilija: “Especially since I come from an environment where I had my family and friends close to me. When something was wrong, I knew who would be able to help me. Here in Groningen, in the beginning I had to solve my problems on my own. There was no one to turn to. I learned to be responsible for the mistakes that I made.”

‘I don’t like to keep things for later because when I delay them, at some point I have to finish them anyway’

“The thing I’m very grateful for is the elite sports status of the UG. It helps me a lot. So far, I haven’t used it to reduce my study obligations or courses. My aim is to combine basketball and my studies completely. I don’t like to keep things for later because when I delay them, at some point I have to finish them anyway. I can’t say it’s easy to combine the two. I have basketball practice in the morning, either shooting practice or gym, and I have practices in the evening as well. Next to that, I have two games a week because I also play for the Under-20 team.” Ema spends the remainder of her time mostly on her studies. “Why does a day only last 24 hours? I need six extra hours! Maybe I could try sleeping less, but that would affect my basketball and studying performance.”

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Study, study, study

Slowly but surely Emilija is getting used to life in Groningen. “I have to say that the first examination period didn’t go well,” she says. “But I wasn’t frustrated at all. I knew how many hours I had spent on studying. When I arrived at the examination, I realized it was something I had never seen before. It’s not like study, study, study, and then just remember what you studied. I can’t speak for other faculties, but at my faculty they really force you to use your brain. Even when you have an open book exam, you don’t have the time to actually open your books and search for the answers. All those books are worthless if you don’t know how to actually use the information in them,” Emilija learned.

“I certainly like the teachers at the UG. They are really approachable. Everyone is very understanding. Back home I had no one to turn to at school, but here they say: ‘Hey, I’m going to help you.’ Their goal is not to make it hard for the students or to let everybody fail. They really want to get the best out of everyone.”


Emilija, who played for ZKK Student Nis in Serbia, is slowly finding her way in the Martini Sparks team. Despite some big losses, they are performing better than last season. “When it comes to the club and the team, I couldn’t have made a better decision,” Emilija, Ema for her teammates, says. “My teammates are the most understanding and generous people I have ever met. If I wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream that freaked me out, every single one of them would be willing to talk to me and be there for me. That also goes for the coaches. They are really understanding and I couldn’t have asked for better ones.”

“Right now, I’m working hard to manage everything. That takes time. I cannot say I’m satisfied with the way I play now, but I’m working hard to give it my best. Every morning I wake up with gratitude.  I’m so glad to have people around me that help me achieve my goals. I can really call this place my home.” But her real home is ofcourse Serbia. “I can’t express how grateful I am for the support of my parents during whole my life and especially this period. I am very grateful for both people here and my family that supports me from 2000 km away.”