I get a lot of mixed emotions when I tell people that I’m a professional volleyball player. Most of them think of it as one of two things: not really a profession OR the coolest thing in the world. Well, this is how I see it: my job is to basically go to another country whose native language is not my own, play a fun, indoor sport with 8-12 different strangers under the supervision of an older person whose ideals and morals could clash with mine, living 5-7 time zones away from my friends and family, all while trying to “fit in,” stay in shape, and avoid injuries and illnesses. I love my job. I love every second of it (most of the time) which is really weird, I know. I am a weirdo.
One thing that most people who go overseas (study abroad program, work, just want to get out of America, etc.) don’t exactly get that I receive upon arrival is an automatic group of girlfriends. The absolute BEST part about my job! NEW PEOPLE! I land in a country completely jet-lagged and already have 8-12 people super pumped to meet me. I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I basically already have friends. Do they ALL become friends? No. Absolutely not. Some have a conflicting work ethic or they are just down right mean and I don’t want to associate myself with them.
The point is that I put myself in a huge and uncomfortable situation with a bunch of strangers who don’t understand me when I talk at my normal conversation speed! Strangers: the people that our parents/elders/older siblings warned us to stay away from and not talk to. And yes, some people should be avoided but the more I venture out, the more I believe that people are beautiful. The strangers I meet sometimes impact me more than the forgettable figures I deal with daily.
I arrived in Paris around 10:30 at night on a Monday, alone. I can’t read any French and all I can think about is the movie Taken and I start praying on the metro that I don’t get abducted and sold into the sex trade. Instead of checking into my hostel first like a normal person, I decide to go straight to the Eiffel Tower to see the light show. As I try to navigate my maps and figure out where I’m going, a large group of young people hop onto the metro. They are speaking English and they are very loud, two things I identify with immensely. I eavesdrop trying to figure out if they’re Americans or what types of accents I can decipher. I finally muster up some courage to ask them where they’re from.
“Well, we have four Americans, a Serbian, a Mexican, a Canadian, a Brazilian, an Aussie, and a Kiwi.”
“How do you guys know each other? School?”
“We’re in the same hostel!”
“Oh wow that’s cool! Where are you headed?”
“Eiffel Tower. We’re recruiting. Would you like to join? We have wine and champagne!”
Instead of thinking of what 7 year old Kristin was once told, which was to stay away from strangers, I excitedly accepted their invitation and that’s how I got to hang out with 10 of the most random and diverse people I had ever met. It was that simple. Let me tell you something, it was one of the best nights ever. We screamed, we danced, we bantered, and we drank below one of the most iconic forms of architecture in the world. I actually had an aha moment where I just thought to myself, this is my life right now. All of my insanely unpredictable and sometimes careless choices had led me to this one moment…with a bunch of people I didn’t even know. One of the guys actually said out loud, “I wouldn’t want to spend this night with anybody else,” talking about our random group and he couldn’t have been more right.
I know my personality has never been scared of talking to people but being overseas has really put another take on that. Besides my Swedish and Greek eight month visitations, I’ve participated in other events where I knew no one and no one knew me. In Germany, we went on a beer garden hike with 10 people from all over Europe and weirdly enough, no Germans were in that group. I was introduced to a dozen new people in Amsterdam after meeting up with an old teammate. I met up with four random Penn State frat guys and toured around London with them a couple weeks ago. I have dog sat and babysat for strangers in the UK. Last but not least, I had some girls I met at the park take me to a pub for “day before my birthday” drinks after knowing me for about an hour after I started petting their dogs.
The past two years I’ve had to go into a country as a stranger and leave as a friend and then not know when I’ll see those people again. When people ask me what the best and worst thing is about my job that’s what I say. I love people and I love meeting new people…but leaving sucks.
So to all of the strangers I have met, thank you. Thank you for being nice, for speaking English, for being rude, for teaching me all of the curse words in your language, for sharing your world and listening to mine. Also, thank you for not abducting me and selling me into the drug/sex trade. I really appreciate that. Starting with a smile, strangers can turn into friends…it’s literally that easy. Life is pretty much trial and error with the people that you meet and those you like, you keep. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to someone and don’t be taken aback when someone does that to you. You never know what good could come of it! I’m a firm believer in that you’re the average of the top five people you associate with…make them good ones.