My senior year of high school I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with Northern Lights Volleyball Club. We spent an unforgettable ten days sight-seeing around the country from Rome to Falconara and San Marino to Venice.
Our tournament was located in Falconara where we stayed in bungalows besides the Adriatic Sea (what we lovingly nicknamed our own Olympic Village). The competition was fierce, we placed third overall, and it was the first time I gained exposure to the world of international volleyball. I could go on and on about the amazing places we visited, people we met, and sights we saw, but those are the aspects of the trip that you’d expect. I gained much more than just great pictures to post on Instagram. I can truly say that the person who boarded the flight to Italy was not the same person who landed back in the States.
Here are the three non-tangible lessons I learned abroad:
1. The art of soaking in a moment of time.
During the trip I only used my phone for taking pictures. I didn’t want to come home to furious parents who had been billed thousands of dollars for international phone usage. No phone meant no distractions. I was only going to be in Italy for ten days so I made a conscious decision to soak it all in – the sights, sounds, points of each match, and each bite of gelato (which was too many to count). I can remember the chill of the breeze when we watched the sunrise on the beach in Falconara, the tantalizing smell of authentic margherita pizza, and the beaming smiles of my teammates when we stepped on the podium to receive our medals. Even when the photographs fade and the computer crashes, these are the moments that can never be taken away from me.
2. The value of introversion…and how to put myself out there when needed.
I’ve always been a shy person – the type to be more reserved rather than overly outgoing. I’m the Rory Gilmore, not the Paris Geller. I found this to be incredibly valuably as I soaked in the sights. I’m content with simply absorbing rather than discussing. Yet, there were times when I needed to put myself out there and speak up. During my tour in Italy I was stretched beyond my confort zone and learned to be comfortable engaging with foreign strangers.
Figuring out the metro? You bet I had to ask questions. Translating a menu? I was clueless. Using dramatic hand gestures in an attempt to communicate with those who spoke very little English or none at all? Not really my forte, but it had to be done.
Throughout the trip, I became confident in myself as I learned how to respond to uncomfortable situations for introverts.
3. Barriers are manmade.
One of the most memorable parts of the trip was a scrimmage with a few different Italian teams while in Rome. Despite our difficulties with communication and subtle cultural differences, I discovered that we were much more alike than we were different. I grew up hundreds of thousands of miles away from the Italian players, but we connected right away with our love of music, movies, and of course volleyball. We spent the afternoon laughing and swapping stories over pieces of pizza and cannolis. Instead of focusing on our differences, my perspective changed and I shifted my attention to the similarities that bind us together.
Years later when I reflect upon my trip, I still regard it as one of the most influential experiences I’ve ever had. The exposure to European volleyball was invaluable and the historical significance of it was imeasurable. The volleyball tour with my Northern Lights club team molded me into the person I am today. As soon as I got off the plane in Minnesota, a countdown started in anticipation of the day that I’ll finally be able to return to Europe.
-Post Authored by Lauren Miller