I have lived abroad before. I spent my freshman year of undergrad in Florence stumbling through broken Italian and a phone with no service. I spent my junior year in London adjusting to British politeness and the constant rain. I thought I was used to adapting, and figured that these skills would suit me well during my year in Galway. I was correct, but it would be rash to say that the challenges of COVID-19 didn’t put these skills to the test.
I love meeting new people. There are very few things more satisfying to me than hearing someone tell a story the way they deem it should be told. It is an actual thrill to watch as a person decides which bits of themselves to share when you first meet. You can practically see the internal dialogue in their head: what makes me interesting? what are the defining features of myself? what, right here and now, should I share with this stranger?
It is because of this love for the unfamiliar person that I often stumble into bizarre situations. I will stop a stranger in the grocery store if I’m lost on what to cook for dinner. If I hear someone tell a funny joke near me, I’ll laugh. I am the first person to message a random organization on Instagram because they posted something I found intriguing or important, and this is exactly how I ended up playing in the National Volleyball League of Ireland.
When I saw NUIG Volleyball post an Instagram story of them training, I sent a message asking if I could join the next practice. They responded back immediately, letting me know that the next practice was that very night. I should preface this with the fact that I am not an elite athlete by any means, although that’s the distinction I received in order to play volleyball matches during COVID-19 lockdown in Ireland. I played volleyball in high school as a right side hitter and on an intramural team at New York University.
I almost didn’t go to that first practice. The location was in a Catholic school I’d never been to. I had no idea how good these girls would be, and worst of all I hadn’t brought the proper shoes or knee pads for volleyball. Fellow Mitchell Scholar and housemate extraordinaire, Mason, told me I’d regret it if I didn’t go. As usual and annoyingly so, he was right, and so off to practice I went despite the typical Galway weather of rain, wind, and more rain.
The volleyball scene in Ireland is minimal compared to the United States, and because of this everyone seems to know everyone. When COVID-19 caused all university play to cease, I was invited to join the Galway Volleyball Club to compete against other teams across Ireland. I train with men and women alike, and my teammates are Irish, Polish, Greek, Croatian, Canadian, American, Italian, French, Malaysian, and the list goes on. My coach, Luke, plays for the local hurling team and calls me “Florida” as a nickname. Our team captain loves to say “Becca Brett” really fast because it sounds “very American” to her. When we create cheers during matches, most of my teammates don’t know what I’m saying. This confusion is because in Ireland certain volleyball terms are different than in the United States, like opposite hitter instead of right side, wing instead of outside hitter, or the fact that liberos aren’t allowed to serve ever.
Unfortunately, Level 5 lockdown has suspended game play and training for the Galway Volleyball Club. In December, I look forward to seeing my crazy bunch of teammates again and screaming “Opa!” together after scoring a point. I may wear the unlucky number 13 on my jersey, but I am lucky in the sense that a random message on Instagram has brought me fifty new friends. I know that Ireland will continue to grant me sweet surprises such as this.