Friday, June 23, 2006

American Girl in Mislinja, Slovenia

(Me and two of my ZOK Mislinja teammates)

ZDRAVO from Mislinja, Slovenia! I am here playing for ženska odbojka klub Mislinja (Woman's Volleyball Club Mislinja) in this year's Global Challenge, hosted in Maribor, Slovenia. I have been in Slovenia since July 13 living with the coach and various teammates, along with spending a few days with another friend in Maribor. I was picked up to play for this team, as my home volleyball region did not send a team to play in the GC.

As with joining any new team, there are a few new aspects that you need to get accustomed prior to playing: offensive plays, defense, and playing a new position (I would be an outside hitter for ZOK Mislinja – usually I play setter). This team, however, presented a whole new aspect to my knowledge of this sport: enter here, the Slovenian language. Slovenian is a language spoken by very few people worldwide…about 2 million to be exact.

I only practiced once with the team, and not everyone on the roster was in attendance. The coach has a hard time speaking English, he understands a lot…sort of, and tends to assume that I know what he is talking about in the pre-game huddles. Did I mention that the game plan is directed to us strictly in Slovenian? Luckily, the girls all speak very good English and translate what they feel is important: “mas, Meghan”(“more, Meghan”) or “pokni Meghan” (“hit it, Meghan”); both of which can be heard many times throughout each 25 point game.

As for playing against the Red, White and Blue, it has given me the opportunity to experience life on the other side of the net. I have always been a part of a team that shows a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, especially when we get a huge block or a great kill. Just like your typical American sports’ fan, we play with a rambunctious spirit. Now I am playing alongside the Slovenians, who are more down to business. It is just a quick huddle in the middle of the court shouting “e-opa” and then back to your positions. Their more focused state of playing is vastly different than the emotional American teams I am accustomed to.

The highlight of playing with the Slovenians actually occurred post-match while in the locker room with some of the American teams:

I see a girl who we just played against, turn to her and say “That was a great game. Man, it’s how in there, huh?”
She looks at me, obviously impressed: “Wow, where’d you learn to speak such good English?”
“Well, I’ve lived in America….” I calmly begin.
She interrupts me, shouting to her teammate: “Jess! Get in here! This girl doesn’t even have an accent!”
I am unable to get a word in while they begin peppering me with questions as to where and when I lived in America, if my teammates speak English, what about the coach, and so on.
“Uh, I’m from America…” I start to explain.
The two girls exchange confused looks.
Finally I am able to explain my situation and reasons for being here, they both show slight signs of relief, and continue asking more questions: “How do you communicate with the team, isn't it hard?”, “Do they speak English or do you know a lot of Slovenian?” I always answer the same: the girls are very good at English, and understand a lot, as long as you don't talk really fast and with a lot of slang; the only one I can't really talk to is the coach...sorry, Baco.

After spending almost a month living and traveling around the small country of Slovenia, it as finally time to head back home. I was able to visit the Croatian coast with my new Slovenian family and experience the local sights with my new teammates. My solo journey overseas was an eye-opening experience. Huge thanks to all the Euro’s who made my time in Slovenia an experience to remember: Baco/Andreja Oder, Anja Ledenik, Nejc Zemljak and family, the ZOK Mislinja team for welcoming me into their volleyball team with open arms, the guys at BIP for hooking me up with my new team, and of course my parents for sending me to live overseas for almost a month. Definitely a great way to start off my senior year of high school!

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