I will be the first person to admit that I wasn’t at the top of my Spanish class in high school. I honestly don’t think I could even hold a conversation with any Spanish-speaker past the simple, “Hola, como estas?” or “Me llamo Maxwell!”
But if I could go back and tell high school Max one thing, it would be to do whatever it takes to learn Spanish (Or maybe to invest in Apple, I’d be rich!!!!).
There are so many different parts of this world, with so many different types of people, speaking so many different languages, and that is beautiful.
When I first arrived in Verona, Italy 5 years ago, the only Italian word that I knew other than “Si” and “No” was “Ciao!” That was it, seriously. Luckily (later turned out to be unluckily), I had a handful teammates that spoke a good amount of English. The first guy that I met, who actually picked me up from the airport, was a named Michele Groppi. He was our backup setter and actually played for Stanford the same 4 years I was at Penn State. I thought to myself, “This is perfect, a guy my age that speaks both english and Italian!”
For the whole season I was pretty much Michele’s siamese twin. It was great that I had him to translate pretty much everything for me, but at the same time I can’t say that I learned a whole lot.
My second season in Italy started out to be more of the same. This time I had a German and a Swede as my personal translators. It was great being able to teach them English words they didn’t know, but I wanted to learn Italian!
About halfway into the season I had realized that I was holding myself back from a great opportunity. So I started studying every night before I went to bed. My method was going on yahoo.it and translating all of the current event articles. By the end of my second season I actually could communicate with my Italian teammates!
My third year in Italy I really immersed myself in the culture. Whether it was espresso with a teammate or a long, Italian dinner with the team (They take forever to eat). Each time out I was speaking more and more Italian.
I went into my fourth year in Italy pretty much with the ability to speak Italian. By now I was completely immersed in Italian culture. I was practically Italian. I would find myself at the store asking workers about red wines they prefer. I would download and listen to Italian music. I would scream at other Italian drivers, in Italian, while doing the Italian hand gestures (Super Italian of me).
I am grateful for the years I spent in Italy. Not only for the volleyball player that it has turned me into, but for the fact that I can honestly say that I am fluent in another language.
So what advice would I have for players going into their first year overseas? It’s simple; Immerse yourself in the culture and don’t rely on English being the universal language, you won’t regret it!
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