Hi, my name is Klara Röttger and I am from Friedrichshafen, a city at the Lake of Constance in the very south of Germany. I played for Lee College (Baytown, TX) as an outside mostly and my major was Kinesiology.
It was already in early high school that I thought about spending a year abroad, but around the same time, the Covid pandemic hit, which made travelling quite challenging and my plans never got more specific. As I have been playing for the state team of Württemberg, I heard of some older girls leaving Germany and moving to the US for playing college volleyball (Fun fact: I got to play together with Sina, one of those girls 😊). I did some research and at this point I pretty quickly figured out that this was what I wanted to do, too. In playing college volleyball in the US, I saw the perfect opportunity for me to continue playing my sport on a highly competitive level while experiencing a new country and culture. And of course, I was particularly determined to experience the school spirit and game day atmosphere we all know from the movies. So end of 10th grade I filled in the evaluation form online as I was sure VolleyUSA would be a great fit to support my journey. After a few days, Sandra reached out to me, what I was really excited about. We set up some calls to get to know each other and I was given the opportunity to ask everything I wanted to know in advance. After that, we got things started. The following months were packed with several To-Dos, such as preparing and taking the TOEFL and SAT test. When my player profile on the VolleyUSA account was complete, the waiting began. I can pretty well remember the day the first college coach reached out to me, because I was so thrilled. Some time had passed by and a few more coaches were interested in talking to me so we set up calls. There were programs I soon figured would maybe not be the best match but I also had a hard time deciding which offer to accept out of those schools appealing to me and all the coaches seemed so nice. But, in the end, I listened to my gut instinct and signed my Letter of Intent to play for Lee College in Baytown, Texas. The next and almost final steps to realize my journey were getting my US-Visa and booking my flight.
Soon I received my visa and when I started packing my suitcases and having to say goodbye to my friends, I realized that this is getting serious now. Also, this was going to be my first long-distance flight and my first time ever being to another continent. The days before my flight I felt tense and a little sad for sure leaving my people behind, but above all I was so excited to see what is next. When the day finally had come, my parents and my sister came to the airport with me. This one was by far the hardest goodbye, but after some looooong hugs and shedding some tears I had to go through security. I still remember the way I felt after passing the security area because this was where I was all by myself now and my adventure finally began.
After a short (unplanned) layover in Boston and about 14 hours later I had landed in Houston. I must have been really exhausted and tired, but I guess adrenaline and excitement kicked in too hard for me to notice any sooner than I was finally lying in bed that day. I was picked up from the airport by my coach, my roomie and Lea (also a German VolleyUSA player). It was Sunday and already pretty late when I arrived and the next day would already be the first day of classes. Though, I did not sleep a lot that night because of jetlag. The next morning I had breakfast with Sina and she took me to the gym afterwards for practice. As I have not had the medical permission yet, I was not allowed to practice that day, but I got to meet all my teammates for the first time. They were all really nice and supportive but honestly I had a hard time understanding them at first because, y’all Texas accent is WAY different from what you learn in school! 😉
The moment I stepped into the locker room and the gym that day, I knew this is going to be different from what I have been used to so far. But truly not in any negative way. As I mentioned, I had to sit aside and watch my first practice but at least I then was prepared a bit for what practice is going to be like the next day. Over all, what I can say is that the whole atmosphere in practice and games is much more intense and passionate and everyone plays and trains with a really intentional mindset. Drill-wise, I found that practice is often more complex. We played 6 on 6 most of the time and also, Americans really emphasize athleticism, whereas coaches in Germany tend to make a point of technique. Also, I really had to adapt to some rules I was not aware of at first. For example: the libero is allowed to serve, the ball can hit the roof and still be played afterwards,…
Personally, one moment that has been engraved into my memory was when we played Wharton County Junior College at home. It was still the very beginning of my year, I guess must it have been in September. By that time, this whole experience was still so new to me, but stepping onto the court that day and playing, I felt like I fully arrived for the first time. After winning the first set and losing the second one, I led my team to a 25-3 win in the third set. Looking back, it feels kind of like a blur because I only remember serving back to back to back. But what I do vividly remember and what makes this moment so special, is how my teammates were so euphoric and cheerful. Apart from that, I generally really enjoyed all the travelling, especially our trip to Arizona. I have never been to the US before and getting to travel to different states made it just so much cooler than it already was. I loved our experience as a team in Arizona but also I fell in love with the landscape, the places and the sunsets.
Speaking of travelling, I sure missed a lot of classes when playing away matches. But teachers were usually very understanding and supporting. Balancing sports and studying requires a lot of discipline, but also with being provided clear schedules and study hall times, we were given time and space to efficiently get work done. Besides that our academic/tutoring resources were always easy to reach out to when needing extra support. And also, I found bus rides as my perfect place to study.
As I have already mentioned, I was looking forward to hopefully getting to travel a bit, even apart from volleyball. And in fact, I was able to realize my dream, which I am so grateful for. When we had free weekends, I enjoyed to go on some little trips with Sina and Lea (my German fellows 😊), who were just as active and adventurous. Later, during spring break, I went to visit a German friend of mine in Mexico. I have not seen my her in like 10 months since I moved to the US after high school and she did so to Mexico. Since Mexico is not too far from Texas, I chose to spend my twelve days of spring break with her. Looking back, it still feels unreal sometimes remembering being back together with her so far away from home after so long. We saw a bunch of cool places making the best memories together and I even got to celebrate her birthday with her; an experience I would not ever want to miss! After my year in Texas was over, my dad came over to the States, rented a car and we did a little road trip before flying back home to Germany. Starting from Houston, we made our way down the Gulf Coast, passing New Orleans, the Florida Panhandle, which has the most beautiful beaches and impressing state parks, Tampa/St. Petersburg and the Everglades before making it to Miami as our last stop. I had the best time with my dad these few weeks.
My biggest challenge coming to the US was probably 1) the food and 2) homesickness. The first weeks, I had a lot of tummy aches because I was just not used to the American food. By time though, I found myself the food and ingredients suiting my nutrition.
And I even fell in love with the Mexican food, of which you can find a lot in Texas. Also, what I appreciated and helped me a lot, is cooking together with my German and Brazilian teammates. Besides struggling with the food, I was really homesick in the beginning. I found myself calling and talking to my family a lot, which got less by time when I started settling in, but really helped me at first, knowing they are with me and supporting me even though we are so far away from each other. My sister though, who I am very close to, I called almost every single day to catch up with each other. Battling the homesickness was also easier having my foreign teammates around me, who were mostly going through the same sometimes. Being there for each other, comforting and supporting, we grew a beautiful little family 😊
And not to forget, the coaches were always super understanding and empathetic. One of my favorite memories outside volleyball was definitely Thanksgiving. First of all, it was my very first Thanksgiving to experience but what made it exceptionally special was that Coach Wade, our athletic director and basketball head coach, invited all the international athletes to spend Thanksgiving at his house together with his wife. This day was truly a blessing. The atmosphere was so beautiful and welcoming for those who were too far away from home and their families to spend this day together with them.
If you would ask me about my funniest moment I honestly could not decide because I have had a lot with my girls!! We have always had so much fun together and living in the dorms with my teammates and the basketball players, there was always something happening and it never got boring. And if it did so, we just hung out together. I have genuinely had such a good time, met a bunch of cool people and made so many amazing friends!
Besides all those precious memories my experience in the US had a huge influence on my personality and my life. I would genuinely believe myself saying that I came back as a different person or at least with a different mindset. I have grown so much as a person and as a player. This year has shown me once again how grateful I am for what playing my sport has given me so far. Volleyball has already taken me to so many cool places and now also has given me the opportunity to make friends all over the world. Also, I was profoundly impressed of the grind, passion and work ethics all the people (not only in sports) put in every single day to get one step closer to achieving their dreams. But, being that far away from home, I also got a sense for appreciating my home country and culture in a different way. Personally, I always really enjoyed talking to people about my country and also letting them try some German snacks and dishes.
My advice for other players: Just do it!
Even though I already came back to Germany after one year in the US for academic reasons, this past year was an incredible experience I would not ever want to miss and it was so worth it!