The biggest resource athletes have when learning about the overseas life is each other, especially when you can learn from the athletes that already have more than a year of experience. Luckily for Natalie Hagguland, a senior at USC, she has a former USC Trojan, two-time olympic medalist, USA Women’s National Volleyball Team member and professional athlete playing abroad, Nicole Davis, to turn to and answer her questions.
Veteran, Nicole Davis
Rookie, Natalie Haggland
How much time do you get to travel around and really see the area you are playing in?
How much time you have when you are playing professionally overseas usually depends on your schedule, i.e., whether or not your team is playing in a european cup in addition to the domestic league. If you are only playing in the domestic league, you typically have one game a weekend, which sometimes varies due to TV scheduling, and one day off. In Italy for example, a typical schedule would look like this: Sunday evening MATCH, Monday OFF, Tuesdaymorning weights & evening team practice, Wednesday morning reception/technical work & evening team practice,thursday morning weights & evening practice, friday morning OFF & evening practice, saturday morning reception for some or OFF & saturday evening video & practice, Sunday morning serve n pass & then game. This format is typical of Europe, except match days might vary. If you have a mid-week european cup match, then you might only get a half day off that week. All that being said, occasionally you’ll have weekends off, etc., and everything in Europe is close, and it’s easy to travel about and see stuff. I’ve driven to other countries, flown to other countries, trained to other cities etc., to see various friends or sightsee during my days off. Anything is possible if you have the energy to do it!
If you are slow at learning the language, what is the most effective way to communicate?
Europeans don’t care how slow you are at learning a language they will just be thrilled that you are actually trying. Once they see you are trying they will try to help, then things pick up. I’ve never been on a team where someone doesn’t speak english, so you will get by no matter what. Language of volleyball is all the same, and the volleyball words are the easiest to pick up and memorize, so you can take comfort in that in the beginning. Drills are a little silly sometimes, but volleyball is volleyball, and at the end of the day, your job hasn’t changed just because your environment has.
What is the best way to meet new friends in a destination where you don’t necessarily speak the language?
In general, you’ll become friends with your teammates pretty easily. If you want to make “normal” friends in a foreign country there are lots of resources on the internet to do that based on what networks you might have. For example, coming from USC, there is a network of Alumni all over the world, and it is possible to connect sometimes with them. There are also networks for ex-patriots (foreigners living in a country abroad) that you can register with, and they organize meet ups and events etc. Again, it’s more and more difficult to land in a place where people our age don’t have some working knowledge of english. There is a stereotype that people don’t like Americans overseas, but I’ve infrequently found that to be true. Most people will be super stoked to chat with you, take you to see the local sights, have coffee etc.
How do you decide on what team to play for? Obviously it is a personal preference as to what you are seeking, but what do you guys think is the most important aspect? Location? Money? Friends on the team? Good league?
Decision process changes as your priorities and/or goals might change. As a rookie, sometimes you might not have a ton of options. If that’s the case, you try to find a balance between what you are offered and what you are looking for. There is a sliding scale for me, for example, between what I would like to make relative to the strength of the team or league and the quality of life in that given country. If you are young the quality of the experience in my opinion, is the most important deciding factor. Will you be in an environment that will facilitate your growth as a person and player? If you can answer yes to both of those questions, and you have a plethora of options, then let money or location or friends on the team play a factor. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere because you might not know anyone. I’ve found those experiences to be some of the most profound.
What do you think is the most important thing that you have learned from living in a different country (outside of volleyball?)
TOLERANCE. I have such compassion for people of all walks of life, and can honestly say that I don’t judge other people for any reason, because my travels have really made me realize that we are all made up of the same fabric, and have the same feelings and thoughts, and aspirations for life, but our only differences come from our life experiences or circumstance. I’ve lived in Catholic countries, Muslim countries, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I’ve met amazing human beings everywhere I have been. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so, and wish everyone could travel the world the way I have, for this reason.
What is the typical day like in an overseas league? And how often do you compete?
I covered a typical schedule above, and you generally compete 1-2 times a week during the regular season. Format for post season play varies for each country.
If you were to tell your 21-year-old self one thing before leaving to play overseas for the first time, what would you tell her?
Happiness is a choice. You only live once, however cliche that phrase has become, so chose to see the novelty in all of your experiences/opportunities.
How are the living arrangements? Do you typically live alone? With a roommate? If so, do you get to choose your roommate?
I always have in my contracts a fully furnished apartment with everything included, and to live alone. I’ve once chosen to have a roommate, because she was one of my best friends and my apartment was huge. You should have the choice to do so. If you are every in a situation where you unsure of something, it never hurts to ask for what you want (or better yet, make your agent do it!)
What is the best way to stay in touch with people at home?
Skype, whatsapp, voxer, facetime, imessage, blogging and social media networks. You’ll get into a routine was you get settled, for example, where you’re skyping with your mom every other night at 7pm your time, and with your grandparents on Sundays, etc etc. You adapt and it becomes like second nature.
What is the best way to navigate or get around? Do you get a car? Or, do you rely on public transportation?
This really depends on where you end up playing. In most places you will get a car, and you may or may not want to buy a navigation system at the local electronics store (a TomTom or Garmin) or you can use your iphone, but sometimes that can be tricky. In Azerbaijan you take the team bus to/from practice and you taxi around the city. In Turkey you either get a car from your team, or rent one. In some places, it might be easier to take a bus or train, just depends on your location, but I think that is more rare. Taking the train however, to go see places or travel within your country on your free time, is often the most convenient way to get around. I am always in the habit of asking a lot of questions of the local players about what to do and how to do things, where to go, what to see, etc., and they are usually really happy to help and show you the way!
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