Kelci French: 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Overseas

This last week I was lucky enough to stumble across a blog called Athletes Abroad. Their tag line – “Following and connecting professional athletes playing overseas”. I think this is such a cool idea. They started up a pen pal program and I really wanted to be a part of it, so I got in touch with them and they quickly sent me an e mail back with some info about their program and what they are trying to accomplish. It’s pretty cool and since following their blog they have posted some pretty awesome stuff that I can: A) empathize with and understand, and B) use as a tool by hearing other athletes experiences and apply them to my situation here in Cyprus. If you are an athletes overseas, or if you like hearing funny stories about the differences between Europen and North American culture, I definitely recommend you check them out.

So today I’m focusing on a feature that will hopefully be of interest/of use to another athlete playing somewhere in the world…


#3 – What items I will or will not be able to find at the grocery store.

This might not sound like such a huge deal, but sometimes it is a pretty big inconvenience. When I came to Cyprus, I really had no idea what to expect about the food. I didn’t know if the tap water was drinkable, I didn’t know if I would be able to find peanut butter (this seems to be one of the Athletes Overseas most wanted items), or most importantly, do they have maple syrup over here? I am lucky enough to have an American woman here in Cyprus who is always, always willing to help me out, especially when it comes to making me feel more at home. Whenever I am trying to fill a craving for a little piece of home, I shoot her a text and ask her, “do you know where I can get… (insert food item here)”. In Cyprus, it’s pretty difficult to find everything you need for one recipe at one store. Often times you need to make two or three stops at the or three different grocery stores before everything on your list can be crossed off. She either responds with the name of grocery store I will most likely find what I’m looking for, or something like, “umm… Canada?” That’s when I know I’m out of luck.

Things that I have needed and successfully found here:

  • Peanut Butter (but good luck finding the the 20 lb. glass jar of Adam’s 100% natural)
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Maple Syrup (Only a whopping 8 Euros for a jug smaller than my hand; width and height)
  • A million chocolate bars that I didn’t even know existed and can’t believe I have been missing out on my entire life
  • Gluten Free Flour

Things that I had hoped to find, and still need imported from home:

  • Adam’s 100% natural peanut butter (the crunchy kind)
  • Kraft Caramels (the individually wrapped ones)
  • The marshmallow stuff that comes in a jar
  • Access to all fruit, all year (although it has made me wonder how good it is for my body to be eating watermelon that magically grows in December)
  • Almond milk that is drinkable

In short, as much information you can gather about the food you will or will not have access to wherever you are going, will help you either mentally prepare before hand and say goodbye to the food you love for the next 8 months, or help you get organized and gather your mass quantities and fill your extra baggage with the foods you don’t dare part with, for your sanity and the sake of those that will have to live with you.

#2 – What the weather is really going to be like

Cyprus has a climate that I can confidently say is coveted by almost the entire world; except maybe the Eskimos. Because of it’s reputation of tropical weather, and -when compared to Canada- no winter at all, I came to this country under that false impression that I would never ever be cold. I brought with me no winter jacket, one zip-up sweater, and a few light button up cardigans for all of the hot summer nights I would be encountering. Now in my defence, the average weather forecast for the coldest time of year sits somewhere between 12 and 20 degrees. This is what is called winter. I saw that and I thought, “man, I’m gonna be sweating all year”. Little did I know, or even think to expect, that Cyprus still gets wind chills, and those winds come from the mountains. Because this country is so small, the mountains are close to everything. The houses are not built to keep the heat in because the summers here are deathly hot, and often times the inside of my house is colder than the air outside. When the sun is out, everything is amazing, but just like every other country, Cyprus still gets clouds that hide the sun from time to time. Good thing my team gave everyone a winter jacket that keeps me incredibly warm, and I was able to go home at christmas and stock up on fuzzy sweaters and fleece pajama pants.

#1 – The first two weeks will be incredibly hard, but it will. get. better.

Before I came out here, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In fact, we talked about that in my bible study this week, the feelings you felt when you made that commitment and signed your first contract. For me the main feeling was fear, along with uncertainty and some anxiety as well. The excitement was mostly overshadowed with doubt and worry and I didn’t have much time to get my head on straight before I left. I arrived here in Cyprus, and the first couple days were ok, I slept all the time and didn’t have to deal with my jumble of emotions. Day three kicked in and then so did the tears. I felt completely overwhelmed. I had lost every ounce of independence I ever had. I didn’t know my way around, and even if I did, the thought of attempting to drive on the left hand side of the road left with visions of causing a ten-car-pile-up. When I did finally learn how to drive I was too afraid to go anywhere by myself because I knew I would get lost, and I didn’t know the name of my village so I couldn’t even stop to ask someone how to get home. I felt completely overwhelmed. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, tears blurred my vision instead. The only thought that my brain could process was “I’ll never make it through 7 months of this”. I have never felt to anxious in my life, and that is not a feeling that I ever wish anyone to have to go through. I relied on every person, every resource I had to help keep me sane, to calm me down, to tell me that I was going to be ok and that I only needed to take it one day at a time.

In Cyprus they have a saying, in English it translates as ‘slowly, slowly’. Sure enough- slowly slowy -I started making some connections out here. I met new people. I got to know the girls on my team. My routine had been flipped upside down, and inside out, so I made a new one. I am making my way into the community through art lasses and teaching music lessons, and now there are days when I feel like I could live here forever. My situation had turned a complete one hundred and eighty degrees, and I am starting to get nervous about the day that I will have to say goodbye to everyone here and head back home for the summer. In the past four months, I have grown in ways I didn’t even know I needed. My soul has been stretched and my heart has been strengthened. If you ever have the opportunity to take a pro contract somewhere overseas, I highly recommend that you do it. I realize that I have been incredibly blessed in my situation here in Cyprus, and not every pro season is similar to the one I am experiencing. People have their share of horror stories.

But if you never try, you’ll never know. Up until now, if there was a situation that I didn’t feel was 100% healthy for me, I never had any trouble walking away from it. This wasn’t necessarily an unhealthy situation, but I definitely didn’t feel like myself. But I had committed, and so, decided to push through for a little while and at least give it a fair chance. Now I can’t believe that I ever had thoughts of letting this opportunity pass me by, and I will always have Cyprus to come back to if I ever need to escape one of those winters we Canadians choose to put up with year after year. That in itself is worth it to me.


Kelci French
Life As It Happens
Features on our blog

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