Tag Archives: professional volleyball

I Love People

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.

1502479_10201553174942622_3872197694811807046_n10702187_10202536674769503_3711152687371473157_n

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.

Quick story:
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.

New friends around the Eiffel Tower

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.
IMG_4206861331_10153552499730112_363869119_o IMG_5812

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.
10897091_10202972734550725_175576063988904260_n10153985_10201570821983787_8092495006638909778_n1016354_10202536719050610_113673929770515042_n603948_10200372249620227_642166228_n

Part two: It’s Constantinople NOT Istanbul

Turkey:
So Turkey is uh, how should I put this, a lot different than Santorini. Polar opposites actually. Little history for ya that I learned this weekend (I obviously didn’t learn it in high school because why would we need to know about that part of the world?): Istanbul was once Constantinople. Constantinople used to be a Greek city. During the age of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks had rule over the Greeks for about 400 years. Oh yeah, they don’t like each other. My Serbian coach informed me that the Turks had rule over Serbia for 500 years. This city is almost as old as Jesus. Twice in history it has been the largest and wealthiest city in Europe (now half of the city is technically in Asia). Seriously? This city is so old and so much has happened here. America is an infant compared to just this one city. They’re probably thinking, “1776 is cute. We had already tried taking over the world a few times when you were just being born, America.” Istanbul is still a Greek name (I’m quickly learning that every word is or has been derived from the Greek language) meaning “Into the City”. It’s also extremely diverse.
.IMG_1865.JPG

IMG_1724.JPG

The smells of this city weren’t like other cities I’ve been to though…and I’m lucky enough to have a lot to compare it to. You have the busy, industrial smell of New York City, the cinnamon pastry smell of Malmö, the beer and chocolate smell of Brussels, the marinara and wine smell of Rome, the smell of marijuana and tulips in Amsterdam….I mean smells stick with your brain! The smell of herbs, spices and tea will forever be in my head when thinking of Istanbul. It was the most wonderful combination of smells and my nose will be eternally grateful for it.

Oh yeah, I have one word that will probably bring me back to Istanbul just because and that word is BAKLAVA. The. Best. Ever. I know I love food and over the years my stomach has created a slight negative response to sweets (I can’t eat a dozen donuts anymore), but I probably ate my weight in baklava and my belly was like “KEEP ‘EM COMING!!!”

IMG_1782.JPG

IMG_1751.JPG

Most of our meals were chicken or beef, with a different soup for both lunch and dinner. I commented to my coach that it kinda tasted like pork and he looked at me very seriously and said that absolutely no pigs were allowed in Turkey (I really hope he was joking). I then remembered the Muslim religion and that pigs (and lambs?) are considered a dirty animal for them and was overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness for them (respectfully of course). Most of these people have never tasted bacon before. Not that I needed a reminder than I’m one of the luckiest and blessed people on the Earth, but that moment made me and my belly both smile.

Volleyball:
Well, we lost every game. We got a 6th place medal (thanks America for trending medals for participation, dummies) and a big ‘ol handshake from the president of the Turkish club that hosted the tournament. Yes we lost but wow, there was some great volleyball going on. Volleyball that reminded me of winning a national championship or watching 6 All-Americans play together. It was fast, full of at least five or six different languages and full of passion. The best word that comes to my mind when thinking about that tournament is fun. That’s what volleyball is all about! We hung with those teams! It’s not like we were completely stepped on…we made these teams fight. They came in thinking that this little Greek team is just a minor pot hole on their way to the final…sorry pal. You’re gonna need a serious detour playing against us. That was probably the corniest analogy I’ve ever used so I apologize but I don’t feel like erasing it. We did some great things. We also did some horrible things but I’m going to choose not to remember those incidents. Just a quick reminder for all of the middles/crazy opposites out there reading this, please get out of your setter’s way. That’s all I have to say.

IMG_1736.JPG

IMG_1745.JPG
It was nice to see the potential my team could have if we started playing consistently. We still have a long way to go but I think we’re on the right track. First real game TOMORROW! The things I’m learning and seeing (and smelling) are things I’m going to tell my grandkids about one day. Plus, all of my Christmas shopping is done 🙂 I truly am living my dream.

Back to the Drawing Board

After our weight session today, my coach and I were talking about how productive our afternoon team practice was yesterday. Even though yesterday was physically exhausting for me (setting over 1,000 balls in our morning technique practice…feeling like I’m at a Sports Performance camp), the evening practice showed how much we, the girls who participated in the morning practice, had learned and we were actually doing things very well. When coach says there is a morning practice and only a handful of girls show up, you can imagine my surprise. We had both setters there, all three middles, and one outside. That’s it; six girls showed up to practice. I say “that’s it” in kind of a negative voice because it was very frustrating to be there with only half of our team when there’s so much to work on and improve. Of course half of the team is under 18 years old, so a few had school lessons and a couple had big girl jobs to go to. However, it’s very tough for me to think differently about this subject because for as long as I can remember, all throughout my 23 years of living, I’ve made volleyball a priority. Partially because it was the one thing I loved more than donuts and my late cat (may he rest in peace), Goober. Ok, it’s probably like a three way tie. Another reason was because it’s a team sport and that’s where all of my friends were (didn’t have many school friends…because of volleyball). I loved working hard and competing. When people would miss tournaments because of prom, I would always ask why? Just like last year in Sweden, we had some girls not show up for practice because they had to study…when they had all day to study. Or in college when people would want to go home during the summer for a whole month when everyone knew that’s what set us apart from the rest of the country: commitment. I just never understood it because that’s how I’m wired. If you want to get better, you have to put in the time. And it can’t just be one person…the time must be put in together as a team. That is the only way you will improve.

For the past four weeks, we have been practicing a lot of individual training, basic technique drills and conditioning (and I mean a lot of conditioning). When you have such a young team, it’s kind of essential for these things to happen in the beginning. It’s also taken some time to adjust to everyone on the team because let’s be honest…there isn’t one team in the world who didn’t graduate someone, transfer anyone, or gain a player to their team. There’s not one team that’s the same from the previous year and my team was not used to anyone. I mean if you come to our practice you’ll hear Greek, Serbian, English, Portuguese and Engleekerbinese…also known as broken English. I get it though. We need time to become a team. However with some girls not showing up to practices and our first match in a couple weeks, some things need to change.

Random photo shoot

We obviously didn't get the memo to act tough or smile...
We obviously didn’t get the memo to either act tough or smile…photo cred Milenko Tol

Now knowing, and thanking The Lord, that there are not many people in this world like me, I need to step back. First off, I need to respect their decisions because people have different priorities. I’m here for my job (gosh that’s so cool to say). Secondly, I am faced with two choices: not worry about it and just go on with the slower progress, or figure out a solution. Since I’m not one to just sit back and let things happen, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and create some opportunities where my teammates and I can get more repetitions and get better. A little adversity never really hurt anyone, right? Gotta keep finding ways to continue living that dream.

IMG_6016

Welcome to Greekland – My First Volleyblog

Just like everything else my sister has done in life (besides the whole kids and marriage thing), I’m following my big sisters footsteps (I have bigger feet and let’s be honest, neither of us got bit by the “tall” bug but I got her by a few inches) and starting a blog. Warning: it won’t be as funny, entertaining, or interesting because she has those kids who are hilarious and well, her life is a lot more complicated and eventful than mine. Oh yeah, and she’s awesome. I figured though, while I’m living in Greece, I might as well write about it….so here goes nothing.

I’ve been here for about three weeks now. It’s hot. It’s 98% sunny (the 2% is when it downpours like the first rain scene in Jurassic Park but instead of a dinosaur coming out of nowhere, flooding occurs in the streets within five minutes because of the lack of drainage system). On a happy note, it’s not very humid! Even without high humidity, I’ve notice that I sweat a lot more than the average human. When my body even thinks about diving on the volleyball court for a ball, there’s an automatic baby pool of sweat that appears. It definitely brings back fond memories of Club South, or for those who graduated before 2012: South Gym

Rain coming in on the Sea
Big storm coming in..
The Mediterranean Sea is super salty but the beaches are luxurious. Clearest water I've ever seen.
The Mediterranean Sea is super salty but the beaches are luxurious. Clearest water I’ve ever seen.
Peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, oil, vinegar, herbs and spices, and of course a giant block of feta cheese
Peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, oil, vinegar, herbs and spices, and of course a giant block of feta cheese
My new gym! Of course being occupied with the most popular sport in Greece, basketball.
My new gym! Of course being occupied with the most popular sport in Greece, basketball.

Speaking of volleyball (the whole reason I’m here), it’s great! My team is young but with that being said, it creates a lot of coachable moments throughout practice and gives me opportunities to practice my future profession. The scary part about that is I’m beginning to sound like my father (not as long winded) with a side of Russ Rose (censored of course). My coach on the other hand is a brilliant Serbian man with lots of experience with this wonderful sport. I consider myself extremely lucky to have a guy who cares a lot about us and who is so knowledgable coaching this team…though sometimes I can’t understand him, and all of the Greek girls are looking to me to translate Englerbian. That’s not very pretty.

Besides being most people’s honeymoon destination because of the gorgeous scenery, my favorite part so far is the food. That’s a very bold statement, I know, but everything is sooooooo fresh. Since it is so warm still, people are continuing to harvest their gardens and vines and they give some of that fresh produce to ME! It’s like a free paleo plan (minus the obsession of feta cheese that they have).

Of course some things haven’t gone as planned, like the broken washing machine that four different people have “fixed,” or not having a light in my room besides the moon when the sun goes down. A couple of cold showers because the water heater was broken never really hurt anybody either. Project mosquito was at first a success but now I’m having to rethink my plan of action. I’ve also learned how unnecessary TV is and have read three books already. I have a great bed, fresh food in my belly, amazing support from near and far and clothes to change in and out of during practice (they also got me a sweat towel which was very nice)….seems to me I’m still living the dream!

Υγεία,

Kristin