Note: The following appears in the August 2019 issue of Orange: The Experience and the Georgia Tech gameday football program.
Embarking on this journey overseas was such a blessing that not most collegiate athletic programs get the chance to do. Being chosen to venture on a foreign tour was an amazing opportunity for continued growth within our program and its culture. A lot of people told us that we might experience culture shock while traveling to so many different places in such a short amount of time. I wouldn’t say that I personally experienced culture shock while overseas, but I would say that I experienced a whole new level of cultural appreciation. This cultural appreciation extends to both an admiration and acceptance of learning new traditions and habits of each new country that we visited, a sense of gratefulness for American culture and silly things like having ice in every drink ordered. I also cannot forget to mention the appreciation for the beautiful air-conditioned gym that we are lucky to play in every day here at Clemson!
I vowed to keep an open mind for each country we visited and its cuisine in order to get the full experience from each place. From 3 a.m. flights to a blistering European heat wave, we faced a lot of adversity that forced us to adapt and grow while on the foreign tour, which was very applicable to our upcoming season. Although volleyball was the reason for our departure on this foreign tour, our program learned so much from every person we encountered, and we were able implement and teach others about the heart of our program, which is “Championship Behavior.”
My favorite stop of the tour was Dublin. Upon arrival, we set straight out to see some of Dublin’s most popular monuments, such as the Christ Church Cathedral and the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. While the views were breathtaking, it was hard to take everything in because there was so much to see and capture in the bustling city. From roaming around to find the hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, to strolling the cobblestone streets, our first day as strictly tourists was anunforgettable experience.
After spending two days in Dublin, we departed on a bus ride to Northern Ireland, where we hosted a clinic for younger school girls and ended up training with the Northern Ireland National Team. During the clinic, I was assigned to a classroom question-and-answer station with the younger girls. There, I was able to answer any questions they had about our program and the United States. I was able to tell the young girls exactly what life is like being a collegiate athlete and the unique experiences that Clemson University offers. The girls were fascinated with the amount of hours that we spend training as a team and the hard work and dedication that it takes to play at the collegiate level. While I was supposed to be answering questions from them, I found myself wanting to ask the young girls questions about Northern Ireland and their lifestyles. I learned that, despite the difference in accents and our lack of rhythm when attempting Irish dancing, we shared a lot more in common than I had originally thought. After training with the Northern Ireland National Team, we got to hang out with them as we toured the Giant’s Causeway just outside of Belfast. Getting to spend more time with the team off of the court gave us the opportunity to connect with them on a personal level and form new friendships.
This short trip to Belfast ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip due to the connections built through the combined training and touring. This experience taught me that although it is sports that are bringing people together, it is not always about the game. Being open to new experiences and greeting the unknown with open arms is something that is implemented in our program’s culture through Championship Behavior. Having the opportunity to share Championship Behavior with the world was very surreal.
Over all of the historical sightseeing and delicious foods, the best part of this experience was bonding with girls from the national teams that we competed against over the love of volleyball. Through talking to them, we learned that we were all going through the same trials and tribulations as athletes, despite the vast cultural differences and language barriers that separated us. It is truly crazy to see firsthand how the game of volleyball builds connections globally that are so cherished and genuine. Seeing the grit and determination in the contrasting styles of play of each team brought out a lot of special aspects in our team itself. We experienced the intensity of the Hungarian University World Games Team, the technique of the Norwegian National Team, the passion of the Albanian National Team and the desire of the Croatian National Youth Team. With each match, our team learned something new from the unique characteristics of each team. The memories that were made and bonds that were built during this trip will always remain close tomy heart.
I speak on behalf of my team when I say that we are all immensely grateful for the opportunities that the foreign tour brought us both as a team and as individuals. The chance to compete, the chance to grow and the chance to see the world in a new way were all given to us in such a unique manner. It was truly an experience of a lifetime that we were able to share as a team to help us prepare for our upcoming season.