Skip to main content

“This is my fourth year in the United States, I spent two years in Florida at a Junior College (Indian River State College) and now I’m finishing my last two years in Missouri at Park University. This experience scared me at first and now that I’m almost done I can say how glad I am to have done it. It turned out to be the best choice I could have made and thanks to this I now have wonderful friends all over the world and I have enriched my cultural background. The academic part is completely different from the Italian university because they have a more practical approach to the subject than we do. For example, I’m majoring in biology and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the lab, especially these last two years, and I’ve realized how important this is, since I’d like to work in the research world in the future. From a volleyball point of view, I’ve noticed that American coaches tend to focus more on the team concept and the mental and tactical part of the game more than on technique. I changed roles halfway through (from band to libero) and it was difficult at the beginning but then I found myself perfectly in my new role and I’m happier than ever. Last semester we won our championship and it was a wonderful experience, and sharing this joy with people I now consider my best friends made it more beautiful and more important to me. On the pitch I have some of the best memories that I will carry with me forever.” Instead of introducing her, we gave her free space to speak and introduce her interview.

In these first words, Irene Verdino summed up what she is experiencing in the States.

When did you decide to embark on this experience and what did the Sportlinx360 staff support you in?

I decided to start this experience during my fourth year of high school and we immediately turned to Sportlinx360 to better understand what it was and if so what the first steps would be. The staff was crucial because they were able to explain perfectly to me what I was supposed to do and assisted me with everything, especially with the documentation which can be tricky. At the same time, I appreciated the fact that they were always very transparent with me and never hid the difficult parts of this experience so that I could make an informed decision. They directed me towards the Showcase which was pivotal in my decision and I would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing this experience to attend one of the showcases because it is very well organized and is a taste of what to expect from a volleyball point of view. Even after I left they were very present and were instrumental when I moved to the school I am in now.

What was your first impact as soon as you arrived in America. What surprised you the most and what were the main difficulties?

The first few weeks in America were complicated, especially because I had never been so far from home and I didn’t know English well. For a moment I thought about going home but I decided to give myself the first semester of trial and in the end I didn’t want to go back. I’m going to be very honest because I was very scared at first and I thought I had made a mistake, and in those moments the support of my parents was crucial because they helped me and pushed me to continue and I will thank them forever. Then I started to get used to the routine, English became easier and easier to understand and speak and I made real friends, and I realized that in the end it was the right choice I could make. The hardest thing to deal with was missing my family to whom I am very close, luckily I met some wonderful people who treated me as if I were part of their family making me feel at home.

If you had to choose three reasons to convince someone to take this path, which ones would you use?

Three reasons to convince someone to come to America I would say: first of all the wonderful friendships you form with people from all over the world that make you a richer person from all points of view. Then it’s the best way to really learn English and more (I speak English fluently, I understand and start speaking Portuguese, and I’m starting with Spanish too). And finally, playing at a collegiate level because it’s a completely different experience from what we’re used to. There are other reasons, of course, but these are the three main ones, in my opinion.

From when you left to today. How have you changed as a person? What did your experience as a student-athlete give you?

I’ve changed a lot as a person, I’m less shy and I have less trouble expressing my opinion in front of more people. I am more independent and I have learned what it means to live alone and have to take care of many things: the washing machine, shopping, traveling. I’m also more confident in myself, as a person and as a volleyball player. As I said before, being in contact with so many people who are different from me has enriched my cultural background and made me open my eyes to how many different realities exist around us. I’ve faced a lot of my fears and I feel more mature and happier.

Tell us about two opposite moments: the most complicated moment and the most beautiful one?

The most complicated moment was definitely the first weeks of my first year, in which, as I explained before, I had some second thoughts and I had some difficulty settling in right away. The best moment I don’t know if I’m able to choose so I’ll tell you a few: the trip to New York with my friends for Spring Break last year, seeing my friends again in August after being away for the summer (and that’s when I realized how important these friendships were to me), and winning the championship for the season that has just ended. There would be many more, but these are the first ones I thought of.

What characteristics must a student-athlete who wants to embark on this path have?

To undertake this experience a person must be 100% sure that he wants to do it because it can be difficult and – if you are not convinced – it is easy to give up at the first difficulty. I think it’s important to be aware of what you’re doing and have both the pros and cons in mind. You have to be open-minded because it’s very different from what you’re used to, and you have to be ready to step out of your comfort zone. It is important to accept making mistakes, especially in speaking English and in general if you have never been alone in such a situation because it is normal to be unconfident and make mistakes. To conclude, you have to love the sport you are starting for a lot because it becomes like a job here and it is important to be very motivated and have passion, otherwise you risk finding great difficulties due to the amount of work that is put into the sport.

To conclude, who were the most important people for you in the States who helped you in the integration and in all your experience?

The most important people were first and foremost my parents and my family, without whom I would probably have returned to Italy after the first month and I would have regretted it a lot. They have always supported me in my choice, despite the fact that it was difficult for them to let me leave and stay so far away for all this time. They have shared victories and failures with me and have always been close to me in everything. Then the friends I made here at Park University (and a girl from my other school with whom I am still very close) were fundamental in making my experience so beautiful. They are also the reason why returning home at the end of my studies will be very difficult.