An Istanbul Sunrise and a New Home

The past few weeks have been so so so full of overwhelming emotion. I’m sure I felt similarly last year when I left for my first professional season in France. But heading to Greece brought a lot more unknown with it.

For those who don’t know I recently signed with AS Makedones Axiou in Thessaloniki, Greece to pursue my second year of professional volleyball in the A1 league in Greece.

The days leading up to my departure were some of the most unsettling. Not only was I going to be leaving again, but I didn’t know exactly when until 2 days before. I was also leaving to go into a completely foreign and unknown situation. Leaving to go to a financially unstable country. Leaving knowing I would not be able to speak or read any of the language, or have any other foreigners on the team with me.

After much back and forth, the world kept turning and the rollercoaster of what is becoming my second professional season kept moving…I got on a 14 hour flight from Los Angeles directly to Istanbul. Because I didn’t know when my flight was going to be, I left the states without being able to hug my family, knowing I most likely wouldn’t be back to see them until March.

My roommates dropped me off for a teary goodbye at LAX. It never gets easier leaving that beautiful paradise for a new adventure. Of course, both of my bags were overweight. But the nice man at the Turkish Airlines desk let them both slide, and ended up giving me an exit row. I almost could not believe it. I cannot imagine being on that flight without a little extra leg room.

As soon as my flight got to cruising altitude a man got up in the aisle to pray at sunset. I realized I definitely was not in Kansas anymore. I was surrounded by a completely different culture, and passing through a country unlike anything I had ever been to before.

I had to remind myself this is what I wanted after last season; a completely new area of the world, a completely new culture, and a new, drastically different experience from what I had last year.

Thankfully, I was able to stay connected with on flight wifi. And with about 3 hours left on my flight I realized that my layover, which I thought was only going to be an hour an a half…was really 14 hours. That meant I would be spending the night in the Istanbul airport. I really have becoming a pro at misreading military time.

Stepping onto Turkish ground, I was completely emersed in a new world. I wandered the Istanbul airport for a long while before finally getting access to the airport wifi and checking in with everyone. The minutes ticked by and then it seemed, all of the sudden it was morning. With an hour to go til boarding I got to my gate, just in time to see the LAST CALL in bold red letters, and the last bus waiting to take us to our plane to Thessaloniki.IMG_1883

Although Thessaloniki is on the water, the airport seemed to be in the middle of lots of grass fields. And it was much smaller than I expected it to be. My bags made it and I was welcomed by two staff members, one who spoke English and one who spoke only Greek.

We drove through Thessaloniki and kept going another 6 miles to the area of the city where I would be staying called Sindos. A very small remote town, even smaller than where I stayed last year. They dropped me off in my one bedroom studio, and told me someone would come pick me up for practice in a few hours, and I would have dinner delivered.  Safe to say I’m already beyond obsessed with Greek food.

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Of course, as soon as they left I found out that my internet cord was broken. In combination of my 30+ hours of traveling and exhaustion was not good, considering all I wanted to do was let everyone at home know I was okay. Although overwhelmed with that situation, I think that having my own space will be great for me to refocus and get back to some things that have lost importance in my life…like getting back into the Word, writing, chipping away at my booklist and maybe even a little bit of art.

I tried to sleep for a few hours, and then got to go to the gym and meet the girls. The girls and staff are all so welcoming, and immediately made me feel as at home as they could. The coaching staff speaks little English so the girls that do speak English were able to help translate. I participated in a little bit of practice, but not too much because they knew I was tired. It was awesome to get my body moving again after a few days of planes and terminal seats. The next day (Tuesday) we were informed we had a scrimmage, and there were going to be another 3 this week. On the plus side, that only meant one training session per day. Which is a lot different than what I experienced in France.

Driving to the scrimmage at almost sunset, we drove past the city, and a combination of sea and mountain and so many white and red buildings stacked on top of each other, looking all Greek and gorgeous. I’m looking forward to exploring the city and see what all is around me.

The scrimmage went really well for me. I could tell right away I am going to be extremely impactful on this team. And the coach was pleased (I think ☺) with my performance. The team is very young and we still have a lot of work to do. And I am still tired, and overwhelmed and not completely settled into routine yet. I am looking forward to some more regularity.

We start up real matches on October 18. I can’t wait to see what the energy is like in the gym. The girls said most of the town shows up for the matches. I hope that they will be broadcast online… but you can all follow along at Greekvolley.com. Just plug the website into google translate and everything will come up translated. Thanks for checking in every body! And I’m going to try and stay on top of at least weekly updates so everybody can stay in the loop.  Love you all!

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3 thoughts on “An Istanbul Sunrise and a New Home

  1. martha towns says:

    Welcome back to the blogosphere! I’ll look forward to your postings now that you are in your new home for the next few months. Hope they can get you closer to town.
    I think we’re having Indian summer if it’s not too early. Glorious days all week and chilly nights. Last night we went for our last Indians game. It was chilly but not unbearable. We left after the 7th inning when it was 7-0 and we weren’t the 7. Got a rapid right away and were home by 10:20. I know we never leave anything early but we were sure we’d be safe on this one. Tons of people left before we did. They did get one run after we left
    Big Hugs, Grandma

  2. Jarryd Cole says:

    Leslie

    This is awesome! You probably don’t remember me, but my wife and I ran into you at the French consul general in Chicago in the summer of 2013. Anyway, I ran into your blog and wanted to comment.

    I’m glad you’re continuing your volleyball career and that you are allowing it to take you to new cultures. I’ve been to Greece once, in Athens, and it was amazing. I fell in love with the food as well and it was a very beautiful city. Greece is a unique place because it’s one of those countries that doesn’t have any of the traditional alphabet in its language, which makes for a difficult time to understand much of anything. Nonetheless, it was a great experience for me and it will be for you as well. If you’re not too far, you should definitely plan a trip out there during some down time from volleyball.

    It’s really cool that you’re in Thessaloniki. I saw in your post that you will be trying to get back into the word, which is awesome! Doing so in a place like Thessaloniki will give you a better understanding of the culture and geographical area of Greece that Paul was talking about in his letters to the Thessaloniki church in 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. I’ve always wanted an opportunity like that!

    Here’s to a great season for you and that you adapt and enjoy your 6-7 months abroad.

    Good luck!

    Jarryd

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