I think this story is a little overdo. I’ve spent so much time sharing stories about other people that I’ve neglected to blog and--well--update everyone on me. Come to think about it, not too many of you may know how my first true, professional soccer experience has been.
The world of soccer is incredibly big and small at the same time. I have come to learn that there are leagues in countries that I didn’t even know existed—like Kazakhstan. While there are opportunities overseas for everyone, getting your foot in the door can be hardest part. Try to think back to all those hours spent emailing college coaches, writing letters, and researching every DI, DII, and DIII university that seemed like a good fit for you. Now, imagine all those schools on a much larger scale except information about all these teams can’t be purchased in a book from Barnes and Noble. In the end, the commitment, dedication, and lifestyle of professional sports may not appeal to everyone, but if your dream is to play professionally overseas then there is absolutely no reason why that can’t happen.
My journey started when I was at my absolute lowest point. The first agent I was referred to was ghosting me, I was back working at a job completely unrelated to my major, and I felt trapped. I love my parents with all my heart, don’t get me wrong, but with all my dreams and ideas of how I would contribute to the world, feeling stuck in my parent’s proverbial basement wasn’t part of the plan. Everything from trying to start my own canvas business to proposing freelance projects occupied all of my free time. My ideas would generate a lot of interest, but every attempt that fell short of my intended goals turned into perceived failure. Eventually a former teammate of mine, with whom I played on the Chicago Red Stars reserves, referred me to a new agent. While I was still felt incredibly doubtful, it was refreshing to feel that flicker of hope once again.
Now the first question I’m sure you are all wondering: how the heck did I convince my parents to let me move to Kazakhstan?
I still remember that phone call like it was yesterday. My parents and I were driving home to Minnesota from Chicago after a game with my WPSL summer team. I hopped in the back seat of the car and opened my phone to three missed calls and a couple texts from my agent, Michael, saying I had an offer. As someone who is naturally very adventurous and open-minded, I ended that 30 minute phone call ecstatic about the opportunity I had just received.
“Well?” My mom asked quizically.
“It’s a Champions League team, they are called Biik Kazygurk!” I replied, literally sitting on the edge of my seat.
“Wow that’s great, what country?”
In the span of two seconds, I could see my dad’s eyes morph from eager curiosity to immediate uncertainty through the rear view mirror.
Question after question began pouring into the backseat. Questions that unfortunately I didn’t have answers to. The concern and doubt in their voices was so thick it brought me to tears. Not the cute one or two trickle-down-your-face tears, but the ugly-mascara-all-over-your-body tears. Here I was with an amazing opportunity suffocated by the fear of disappointing the two people I love most. The misunderstanding I had of them not wanting me to chase my dreams was only them trying to find answers EVERY parent would want to know. Especially if their child, their first child is moving to the other side of the world. And did I mention favorite child? Totally kidding.
What simultaneously felt like both the longest and shortest seven hour car ride of my life, we made it home with everyone agreeing that research was a key ingredient necessary before moving forward. I spent a majority of my time researching the team and communicating with Michael, my mom read several travel blogs learning about first hand experiences in Kazakhstan, and my dad watched scenes from the movie Borat.
Borat, Dad… really? That movie isn’t even filmed in Kazakhstan. Luckily for me he took the twisted humor with a grain of salt and instead measured the exact distance I would be from the world’s “most dangerous cities.” I remember in that particular moment wishing he had stuck to watching Borat.
After extensive research and protocols for how to avoid potential scenarios like in the movie Taken ( A movie which my father has watched 20 times referencing often AND a protocol that was unintentionally broken in my story, ‘Risk, Fear, Trust, & Reward’— oops) we were all excited for this new chapter in my life.
Since being in Kazakhstan, my appreciation for the world has grown profoundly. The opportunity to learn from a culture far different than from my own doesn’t come around very often. Not to mention, Kazakhstan is beautiful. There are so many incredibly modern, progressive, and vibrant cities. However, like Shymkent, some cities are still in the early growing phases. While I have been fortunate to receive everything from VIP tours through the mountains to countless gifts from locals, I have also taken advantage of the opportunity to give back in my own unique and creative ways. Whether it’s teaching one or two English phrases or individually Whatsapping ten different new friends all the photos taken that day, the possibilities are limitless. The best part is--more often than not, they are equally as excited to learn from you are you are to learn from them.
The main street outside our hotel in Shymkent, Kazakhstan.
Soccer is soccer. It will always have its highs and lows, but not everyone can say they’ve made it to the round of 16 in Champions League to play Olympique Lyonnais, currently the highest ranked team in the world. For a long time it has been my dream to play in France. Maybe this is as far as the dream goes or maybe this will open some new doors, who knows. My teammates are great, wonderful actually. Despite having language barrier, we will always have that unspoken bond. Besides, learning to communicate in half-Russian and half-English has been a fun challenge for both of us.
In the meantime I will continue to write my stories. I write these stories not to share all the great things I’m doing, but to share all the great and interesting things about the people that I meet. My writing isn’t perfect and truthfully, I don’t think I’ve discovered my true voice just yet, but I have embraced the challenge of always finding ways to step outside of my comfort zone. I have received a great deal of support on this blog and appreciate every like, share, subscription, and comment more than I can express.
Thank you to everyone who has followed and supported me on this incredibly unpredictable journey.