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Basketball Player From The USA: “Americans Think Belarus Is a Totally Different World”

Justin Gray, an American from Florida, is a basketball player of “Tsmoki-Minsk”, one of the most successful basketball clubs in Belarus. Three years ago Justin didn’t know where Belarus was located, but today the athlete calls Minsk a “second home”.

In a recent interview the player told how he adjusted to life in a new country and what he misses about Belarus when he travel abroad.

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Great Belarusian neighbors and bad local climate

Justin Gray has been playing in Europe for 11 years, and it’s his third season with the Belarusian club.

Although, according to the charismatic player, many of his friends still do not know what Belarus is.

“Three years ago, I had two options – to move from Cyprus to Belarus or to France. Earlier I had lived in Belgium, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and even China and Lebanon. So I have formed a very good idea of what Europe is. And I learned an important lesson: one should choose not the place, where a lot of money is offered, but the place, where they need need you and where you will be comfortable”. 

Justin felt that joining “Tsmoki” would be a new challenge and decided to relocate to Belarus.

Justin’s wife usually accompanied him in his trips – for example, the family were in Frankfurt together. But she took a pause and didn’t go to Minsk three years ago because it’s a bit stressful for the family to change warm climate for wet and cold Belarus.  So Justin tried to cope with Belarusian experience by himself.

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He says he found Minsk a comfortable place for living.

At present Justin has an apartment near supermarket “Riga”. The district is full of shops and restaurants; it’s not far from the gym and the arena “Minsk-2006”. There is a famous food market Komarovka in 10 minutes on foot.

“When I moved to Minsk, I was smiling all the time. But locals seemed to be very serious”

The basketball player enjoys the location and friendly neighbors. He already has Belarusian friends.

Justin says it’s quite hard to cook just for one person. That’s why he found some nice cafes in Minsk. He likes seafood at the restaurant Iachetta’s, American burgers at ENZO and tasty soups at Lido.

“You know, it’s really interesting to observe people in Minsk. When I moved here, I was smiling all the time. But locals seemed to be very serious. It’s cold here, Belarusian economic situation isn’t very good, people have to work very hard and every person has their own problems”, Justin suggests.

Belarusian soups and language troubles

Justin tries to cope with the language barrier. He knows some Russian words, but still finds it difficult to explain where he needs to go to taxi drivers.

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Fortunately, there’s Uber service in Minsk at present. Earlier the athlete used to called somebody of his teammates, explain the plan and ask them to talk to the driver.

«I use delivery service: there is no chance to drop groceries on the ice and no need to speak Russian»

He used to do shopping in Minsk, but still prefers to use delivery service. Not because he’s a lazy guy, but because it’s more comfortable for a person who has no car:

“There is no need to speak Russian and no chance to drop groceries on the ice. Oh, Belarusian winter is a real problem for me, a man from the hot Florida. Delivery service also solves the problem of language barrier. And I use Google translate.”

Justin admits that when he flies back to America what he really misses are Belarusian soups.

“I’ve never eaten soups before I moved to Europe. I live in Florida and it’s warm there all of the time. But in Minsk it’s often cold outside so a soup is excellent food!”

Gray is a big fan of movies. It’s complicated for him to watch new movies in Belarus because of the language barrier. And they are premiered much later than in the USA.

Last year his wife Julie and the kids moved to Belarus for one season. The elder child was in kindergarten, he attended international one in Minsk. Nowadays Justin Jr. is a pupil. The parents decided that the son needed traditional American education, that’s why the mother and the children moved back to USA.

Justin is going to visit the family on Christmas. He’ll have just three days-off on Christmas Eve.

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Gray says his friends traditionally greet him with jokes when he returns to the USA from Belarus:

“Guys like joking “Hey, where the life brought you, guy? What is Belarus?”. I’m telling them that this country is bordering Russia. They immediately respond: “It’s something like Moscow.” And that makes me laugh: “Guys, you have no idea what Belarus is”. They think that there is totally different world here. And then I tell them that Minsk also has American restaurants like KFC, Friday’s and Domino’s Pizza.”

Many of the players of “Tsmoki-Minsk” continue to work in the club even after retirement. Justin used to joke on the teammates that “Tsmoki-Minsk” is forever in one’s life. Now Justin Gray thinks it’s time to laugh at him – he has been living in Belarus for three years. And he really likes it!


Victoria Kovalchuk for BelarusFeed.

The Russian version of this article was published on TUT.BY. Photo credit: BC “Tsmoki”, Justin Gray.