Checking In With Brown Overseas

Feb. 16, 2009

Bratislava, Slovakia –

Since graduating from The University of Kansas in May 2008, four year volleyball standout Emily Brown signed on to play professionally for Doprastav Volejbal Klub in Bratislava, Slovakia. caught up with Emily to find out what her international experience has been like so far.

What type of food is typical there? What do you like/dislike?

EB: They’re definitely a meat and potato/rice culture! They don’t have too much red meat though, mainly chicken, pork and fish. They also love cabbage. We have that a lot as a side dish, as well as pickles. They start almost every meal with a soup, kind of like we would with salads, even at a pizzeria! I’ve run into some interesting concoctions- a layered potato, bean, ham and pickles mess. It wasn’t too bad though!

They also LOVE coffee and tea. Every time we stop while we are traveling, most of the team sits down to have a cup of tea or coffee in the gas station (most have little diners attached). We even have a coffee vending machine in our gym!

Luckily fitting into the food habits here haven’t been too hard. I’m not too picky and I like to try new things, so that helps. Here is something funny that happened recently. I love Mexican food, but as it turns out, I’m pretty far from Mexico now, so I haven’t seen any Mexican restaurants. I did finally find a little shelf of Mexican food items (tortillas, salsa, etc.) in a grocery store though, so I got some things for burritos and chips and salsa for dinner. I made my little feast while my roommates all looked at my plate with the weirdest faces. Finally one of them said, “Emily, what is it?” They had never seen a burrito before! They tried chips and salsa (never seen tortilla chips before, only potato chips) and one girl loved it. One thought it was too spicy and the other two were indifferent. I think I’ll cook a little fiesta sometime for the “family,” they don’t know what they’re missing! Side note: I also recently found peanut butter! Another little success!

Is it hard not knowing the language? How do you communicate when you don’t speak the same language?

EB: Slovak is so hard! A teammate gave me “Slovak for You,” a Slovak phrasebook so I can start to learn some important phrases. My mouth does not even make the sounds they make here! Lots of hard sounds, like multiple consonants with very little vowel use. So it’s hard for me to learn and adapt. But I’m unbelievably lucky because the coach is fluent in English, and a few girls are as well. Everyone else knows enough to get most things communicated. With that said, practices are a different story. No English. The coach will talk about who knows what, he’ll point to where I need to go and then the drill starts. I have no idea what the drill is, or what I am supposed to do. The girls have been really helpful though, they try to give me a breakdown of what he said. Its usually just a passing gesture or hitting motion to tell me what I’m supposed to do. During matches, the assistant coach draws stick figures and points to the one I am supposed to be and draws a line to where I should go! It’s kind of like volleyball Pictionary, just with an added twist to game strategy!

What are your living arrangements?

EB: My team set me up in a really nice apartment. Luckily our sponsor is great, and their main building has some apartments in it which we get to live in. It’s a two story place with four bedrooms, two baths and a nice kitchen. Six of us live here (all volleyball players). Two sets of two girls share a room and then two of us get our own room (I have my own room). It really is a nice place, but it’s kind of different because there is no real common area like a living room. When we are home, everyone is in their own rooms watching TV, studying or on the computer. It’s kind of hard to ‘hang out’ when everyone is in their own rooms and I have a room to myself!

What was it like during your first few matches?

EB: One of my first matches was the “Slovak Cup,” which is their National Championships. They had already set themselves up to be in the finals before I got there, so all I had to do was help them win it! We ended up winning in four games.

First awkward moment- Slovak National Anthem. I just stood there because I couldn’t understand any of the words. The song was weird because it started and then after a couple minutes they just turned if off, and I don’t think the song was over! There was probably the equivalent of half the size of a crowd in the Horjesi Family Athletics Center in attendance. It was full though so that was cool. There were a couple of rows of bleachers on one end of the court where a bunch of little kids sat. Turns out they were the in-between sets entertainment. I watched them instead of listening to Slovak game strategy and they were hilarious! They ranged in age from 4-12 and did hip-hop dance routines! They would come on the court and do little routines to rap songs. There was also a section of fans for the other team that were obnoxious! Just like a typical group of fans for a Euro soccer game- really loud, minimal clothing, rally towels, drums, noise makers and chanting. They got a little nasty during the men’s game and some actually had to be escorted out by the police!

After our match we watched the men’s’ teams play. After the men’s’ game all four teams lined up on the court and we had the medal ceremony. We got medals as well as the big trophy “cup” which was pretty cool. The head of Slovak Volleyball and put the medals around our necks. I was last one and the man said, “Congratulations, welcome to Slovakia, you’re a National Champion!” in perfect English! Then the fans stormed the court and we had champagne bottles popping and spraying everywhere. It was nuts!

We headed back to the hotel after the games to a conference hall type room where all the teams, coaches, presidents, managers, Slovak volleyball personnel, referee’s, and everyone involved had a little bit of food and lots and lots of wine. We were there for a celebration! It was kind of awkward for me since I didn’t know anyone but my team. I pretty much stood by myself for a while acting like I knew what I was doing. As it got later and later, more and more people wanted to talk to the American, so towards the end of the night I had plenty of friends! I talked with the head referee president for a while, who was fluent in English, so he was my translator when other people wanted to talk with me.

To find out more information about Bring It USA and Emily’s experience in Slovakia, visit