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After 20 hours of travel from Auckland Airport to LAX and then from LAX to Michigan, I finally arrived at pit stop number one, Madonna University in the early hours of Thursday Morning. With this being my first trip to the USA I had no idea what to expect or what I was going to be in for. When we arrived into Detroit, assistant coach Brian and his wife Lynn where there as a surprise pick up which was amazing and we couldn't be more thankful. We arrived to our hotel at around 2am, as the trip from the airport to Livonia was only 20 minutes. With a huge lack of sleep a good nights rest was certainly called for to prepare for the exciting weekend to come. The following morning Brian and Lynn picked us up from our hotel and we drove over to the university. Initial thoughts where certainly WOW, the campus was gorgeous, not overly huge but so detailed and eye opening, defiantly beyond my expectations. I firstly met with Amanda from the admissions department and Amy from the International Office, which was great to finally talk face to face and both where so incredible and made me feel extremely welcome and at home. After going over all the details and paperwork I then was then met by a student representative who gave me and my mum a tour of the college. It was great to see the campus in such detail, from the classes, to the dorms, the dining halls and sporting facilities - which quickly would become my second home. After the tour it was time to meet the Coach and team, something I was extremely excited about but also very nervous about. I firstly met with Coach Jerry on his own and quickly felt like a member of the team. He was extremely excited to finally meet me and made me feel as though I was talking to an old friend which was amazing. It was then time to meet with the rest of the team and even have a training with them. I was so nervous walking into the gym and I had no idea what I was going to be in for. Would they be friendly? Chatty? Would they like me? Though I was very much wrong when I don't think I even put two feet in the gym and I was bombarded with hugs, "Hellos" and heaps of questions about what language we speak in New Zealand, where New Zealand was and do we regularly dance the way they do before rugby matches. It was surprising how little they knew about New Zealand. After a meet and greet we began a light training as the team was preparing for national final the next day. The team environment was amazing, lots of on court talk, high-fiving and cheering - certainly something new for me but was so incredible to experience, I loved it. The pace of the game and intensity of the training was certainly a huge step up from New Zealand Volleyball and what I was used to. Though I quickly slotted in and both Coach Jerry and the team made me feel right at home. Because the team was competing in a major event the next day against a college from Kentucky that night a banquet between the two colleges was held. So after heading back to the hotel and relaxing for a bit, Lynn picked us up and we went back to the school for dinner. I sat with the team and Coach Jerry where I was bombarded with further questions and asked to say a lot of words in which they found extremely funny. As part of an event like this it is tradition that you exchange a gift, usually being a t-shirt of college memoire of some sort. As we exchanged gifts we where all extremely shocked to be handed a KFC box, thinking "Why are they giving us chicken?" Very confused we opened them up and found it not to be chicken but their college t-shirts! It was such a creative idea and we where all blown away! As the banquet came to an end it was time to head back to the hotel and get a good nights rest.
The next day was certainly one to remember, it was the big game - something I was so excited to watch! Because it wasn't starting till 2pm we had heaps of time to spare. Lynn picked my mum and I up in the morning and we got to really have a proper look around the town. We looked at some incredible stadiums, visited the different suburbs, went to a diner for a true american lunch but the highlight would have to be my first visit to Walmart, which sounds crazy but was so cool. Some of the things I discovered in there where just out of this world!
As the afternoon progressed we headed back over to the school for the game. I suppose one of the best things was that the game was a national final, so all the parents, supporters and family of the team where there. I don't think I have met a more caring group of people - I think I was invited to every family's Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. I could not have been more grateful of their generosity and kind hearts - something reassuring for a young person being so far away from a home, a second family was quickly created. In addition to this the game was amazing, so fast paced and incredible to watch. I was able to first hand see the teams dynamics, how they worked together and played. If I thought training was an eye opener, the actual game itself was more again! And to really top it of the team came out on top, meaning they had an automatic bid to nations in Ohio which they would then travel to the next week. So as my afternoon came to an end it was spent giving lots of hugs and goodbyes to the players and families of the team. To my unknown it certainly wasn't easy as I had quickly felt like a member of the volleyball family. But my visit couldn't last forever and it was time depart Michigan and head to the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Thankfully the difference between the two states was not huge so my plane journey was significantly shorter than my previous one of 19 hours - which when your 6f 3 is not pleasant! After a quick 2 hour plane ride we arrived at destination number two, California University of Pennsylvania. Again I had no idea what to expect and I had many questions running through my head, especially as to how it would compare to my previous visit which at the time I remember thinking how could anything compare! We hopped of the plan at Pittsburgh and where greeted by Head Coach Peter Letouneau. We then began the 1 hour drive from the airport to the city of California where the university was located. Along the way we saw some of Pittsburgh's mains sights including Heinz Stadium home to the Pittsburgh Stealers which was pretty incredible. Driving into the University it certainly exceeded far beyond my expectations. I'm pretty sure the first words that came out of my mouth where "Its just like the movies". The campus was situated in what's called a university town, so basically the town of California is university affiliated. It is a small town but contained everything you would need, living the college lifestyle. As we got onto campus we went over to the newly built convocation centre, which was out of this world. I had a tour of the sporting complex including the Volleyball centre, which as seen in the pictures bellow are something I've never seen before - mums description being "Its just like High School Musical". By this point it was quite late and it was time to meet my room mate for the night. Ashleigh met us in the volleyball centre where she took me up to her dorm. It was such a cool experience seeing the dorms, what's inside and what dorm life is like - defiantly something I am so excited for. As night time quickly fell, myself, Ashleigh, my mum and Coach Peter went into California for some dinner. It was great to be able to properly have a talk with Coach, he gave me an overview of the team, positions, how things worked regarding schedules and practices, which was really great. After a proper American dinner, I went back with Ashleigh for a night in the dorms. I think that staying in the dorms really gave me a true experience of what to expect, Ashleigh was amazing and we chatted for hours about college life from a students perspective which was something I hadn't done and found really interesting - defiantly making my excitement of college grow even more.
The next morning we where up bright and early to meet the Coaches for breakfast We made a plan for the day and first up was a school tour with Ashleigh. It was incredible to see the campus by foot, it truly was an amazing campus. After seeing the campus I then met with the admissions and we went over all the paper work. We discussed things such as undergraduate programs, what I was interested in studying, the next stages in applying, really just an overview of the college itself. Next stop was some lunch. We went up to the main dining hall where we met the other members of the volleyball team. It was so great to finally meet the team, who had been busy with classes that morning. Again it was very much filled with "hellos", hugs and even more questions. It fascinated me hugely how interested they where in New Zealand and showing them pictures are hearing and seeing their reactions really made me realise how incredible New Zealand really is - something I often do take for granted. Feeling refuelled I then had the opportunity to attend a sports management class - a program that I am interested in. This was such a highlight to my visit at the college as I was really able to first hand experience the class atmosphere and how it compares to that of a high school one. What I found as being the key difference was the discussion. As much as it was the teacher doing majority of the talking, the discussion was still hugely student orientated, the students drove the conversation through questions and queries which I found to be really beneficial and much more hands on - something not often occurring through high school classes. My final activity of the day was a light training with some of the team. This was mostly with the current freshman as due to the very tight timing of our trip we where over their during Thanksgiving which meant some of the older players who had finished their classes off had gone home for break. The training was certainly challenging and Coach Peter ran me through some different plays and gave me the opportunity to have a hit and switch up my position which I thoroughly enjoyed. As Coach called training to an end, we headed back into the volleyball centre to have showers and get changed, in preparation to finish my visit.
As we had two more days in Pittsburgh, Coach dropped us to a hotel in centre city. It was great to be able to explore Pittsburgh for ourselves and begin to wind down, from the past jam packed week. We visited some local attractions, went up the gondola and discovered some incredible views of the entire city and we where even fortunate enough to experience snow - which for me was a first and one I will never forget.
A trip to America certainly wouldn't be complete without a visit to LA, so on the way home my Mum and I stopped over for five days where we did an incredible tour which took us to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, The Grove, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood and even Beverly Hills - though not a lot of money was spend there! We finished of with some black Friday shopping which certainly was an experience and ended up buying far more than we should of but overall we had an unforgettable time. The five days very quickly flew by and the next thing I know I'm sitting on the plan to begin my journey home.
Overall my recruiting trip to the USA was one that I will never forget. I had no idea that my decision was going to be this hard though I am extremely grateful that I have the opportunity to have a choice. Both schools are completely different, each with their own positives and negatives. I have had many people telling me what's important and what to consider when making my decision which is certainly overwhelming. So I think that in order to make the right decision, as much as it is important to consider the opinions and thoughts of those around me, I am the one actually going - living and studying away from home so its equally important to consider my own feelings and ensure they are listened to.
I am extremely excited to begin my college adventure. It is going to be a huge change but I am overwhelmed with excitement and eager with anticipation to see how a new life in America will go.