Moppin's Russia Trip -- 10 Questions

July 25, 2006

LAWRENCE, Kan. –

Photo Gallery

Former Jayhawk softball standout Jessica Moppin recently traveled to Russia to compete with a Russian club team. Upon her return, Moppin shared her experiences and some photos with Kansas Athletics.

1. How did your trip to Russia begin?

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J.M.: When I first arrived, I went through customs smoothly and I got my bags with no trouble. I walked out to the terminal where hundreds of people were piled up waiting for their friends or family. I had no clue who was picking me up so I was a little worried. I looked around and saw this small man holding up my name! I screamed out “Hi!” No response. I walked up to him and said, “I am Jessica Moppin.” He didn’t respond again but instead grabbed one of my bags and started toward the exit. I practically had to run to catch up to him. It was scary because he was a little rough around the edges and I was in a foreign country. We got outside and it was about 100 degrees (dry heat). We walked about five minutes to get to his tiny red car. He threw my bags in the back and handed me his phone. I took the phone and the man on the other line spoke very bad English and attempted to tell me that he was the President of the of the softball club and asked if I was ready to play a game. I said okay, even though I was half dead from the 16-hour travel day. I got into the car and we started our drive. I soon found out that some drivers in Russia do not care about speed limits, seat belts or lines on the roads. If you are on a two-lane road, they make three lanes. Everyone there was in such a hurry. I think I saw three traffic lights the entire time. The drive was only supposed to be an hour, but with traffic, it took us three hours. With all of this I was still excited because I was in a new place. The man driving me knew NO English, so I took in the environment by myself. After I made it to the field in one piece, they gave me my uniform and I put my cleats on. Once I met the girls on the team I knew I would be fine. I almost fainted in the game because of my lack of sleep and the heat. But I survived and went 1-for-3! I ended up hitting .520 in the nine games while I was there and went errorless at shortstop.

2. How were you able to adjust to the language barrier? Was there an interpreter or someone to help?

J.M.: The language barrier was the most difficult challenge I faced there. We did have an interpreter but she was not around all of the time. Going to the town square and trying to order food at the market was hard because you couldn’t tell them what you wanted. During the games it wasn’t too much of a problem since they use our terms like “out, safe, ball, strike,” and “foul.” But in the dugout it was frustrating not to be able to engage in conversation. There are three girls on the team that could speak a little English and one is fluent. I talked to them most of the time and went to them with any questions.

3. How was the competition level? Did you scrimmage each other or play area teams?

J.M.: There were seven teams and four rounds of tournaments. My team has won these rounds the past 13 years. The seven clubs compete for government funding and the right to be named the National Team. My team is clearly the best. There were maybe two other teams that gave us a little competition. What surprised me the most about my team was their speed. No one had real power but they hit the ball hard (line drives) and made up for the lack of power with their feet.

4. Was the trip what you expected? Any surprises?

J.M.: Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that it was underdeveloped, but once you look past that, Russia is very beautiful. I had also heard that the people were very warm once you get to know them. That was very true. The people that I was associated with took care of me like I was their own. The girls on the team were amazing. I have already made a few lifelong friends. The Russian people are such a beautiful culture — everyone had gorgeous light eyes and fit bodies (they eat lots of natural foods).

5. What did you eat while you were there?

J.M.: Their food was great. The main things they eat are soup, tomatoes, cucumbers, pork and chicken — and they put mayonnaise on everything. They grill their pork on big metal sticks. They have thousands of different soups and I had the pleasure of trying four kinds. I loved all of them. The winter there is very harsh so soup is their specialty. They drink “Kbac” like we drink pop. It tasted like beer but it is non-alcoholic. They also do not use ice in anything so all the drinks are warm. I had a refrigerator in my room so I could cool all of my water. One thing I saw that I had never seen before was fish jerky. We were on a bus and I thought I had smelled fish and sure enough I see this girl chewing on dried-up fish. It wasn’t cut, it was the shape of a fish, head and all!

6. What was your most memorable moment?

J.M.: My most memorable moment was going to Moscow. I heard that it was the size of New York City, but I have never been to NYC so I didn’t really know what to expect. It was breathtaking. The city’s population is nine million. It took us 45 minutes just to get to the center where Red Square is. Red Square is where the President lives and where St. Basil’s

Cathedral is. After we walked around sightseeing, we went to a hip-hop club. They listen to our kind of music, so it was like being home!

7. The team made a trip to Colorado recently – were you part of it, and how did they like the U.S.?

J.M.: Yes, I did meet the team in Colorado Springs. This was actually their second trip to Colorado this summer. They are not the biggest fans of American food. They typically eat very healthy, natural foods, with small portion sizes. They do not like spicy food at all, so when I introduced them to Chipotle, they hated it. They enjoyed the scenery and mountains Colorado Springs had to offer. It seemed like all they wanted to do was shop. It is very expensive to get things like shoes and clothes in Russia so they stocked up on that stuff here. They loved how big our homes are here. Most of them live in flats that are the size of most of our living rooms. It makes you realize how fortunate we are in the United States!

8. Do you keep in close contact with anyone on your team?

J.M.: I talk to one of the girls almost every day because her English is better than the others. I e-mail with them every week to keep in touch also.

9. What did you get out of the experience? Would you have done anything differently?

J.M.: I got so much out of the experience and I can’t wait to go back. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I got three lifelong friends, I got to learn a new culture, see a different world, learn some Russian, appreciate what I have, and to top it off play some softball!

10. When is your next trip back?

J.M.: I leave August 14. I fly to Denver, then to France, and arrive in Moscow on the 15th.