2013 – 2014: TURKEY – YEŞILYURT SPOR KULÜBÜ
I made the transition from Germany to Istanbul, Turkey after spending many sleepless nights trying to decide if it was the right move. Turkey is known to be one of the top leagues in the world, along with Brazil, Azerbaijan, Poland, and Italy. I wasn’t sure if I should play one more year in Germany and get another solid season under my belt, or just take the plunge and see how I matched up against some of the best players in the world. In the end I decided, why not now? If I was planning to take the next step in my career the following year, I might as well just go for it. It ended up being the right choice – playing in Istanbul can be only described as an “experience”.
I’ve traveled to so many places all over the world so I wasn’t as culture-shocked as I was expecting to be. Living just outside of Ataturk International airport in the quiet, wealthy, smaller town of Yesilyurt might have been one of the best set ups I could have hoped for. Down the street I had the Turkish equivalent of the Vancouver sea wall. It took about a 45 minute (brisk) walk along the sea to get to some parks and a shopping mall ie. Starbucks. Yesilyurt sport club was less than a 15 minute walk from my house and I had dolmus buses (large 8-passenger vans imported from Germany after the war) flying around on the major streets around me, which you can use to get yourself to some major sites; Old Town, shopping mall districts, the ferries, Taksim Square, etc. I was on the city bus a lot this year heading into Old Town, which had the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Hagia Sofia, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace… and Starbucks. I took all of my visitors to this area MANY times. By the end of the year I knew all the ins and outs of the whole area. I again, lucked out with my teammates – I love every single one of them, and for those of you who are familiar with the professional life, that’s pretty difficult to come by. However, it was a very different year for many reasons. The biggest factor was the language; my coach, assistant coach, and 80% of my teammates didn’t really speak English. The first month of training I felt like I was spinning around the court, never TOTALLY sure what was going on. After a few months I was finally able to pick up on certain Turkish words as well as just being familiar with the drills we did. I was one of two foreign players, also a major change from the previous year, but Rita (Hungarian) was my saving grace. She played 4 years down in Kansas State and was my token North American; we did so much together and I am so thankful for her. At the end of the season we were able to travel together, along with her parents, and explored Cappadocia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus (photos are in Travel Bug). She’s someone that will be in my life much longer than my professional career.
A few other notable differences in Turkey were:
- Cats are EVERYWHERE. That’s not an exaggeration. In a 360-degree view you’re going to see upwards of 6-10 cats. If you were on the seawall it would be safe to bump that number up to about 15. Meow.
- Something that took getting used to was the fact that the mosques play prayer 6 times a day. I had one pretty close to my house so I had a ‘natural’ sunrise alarm clock… lovely.
- A typical meal consists of a little mixed salad/cabbage, rice, and kebab. Delicious food overall – everything was so fresh.
- Traffic? You’ve seen nothing. Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of 14.2 million… I’ll let you sit with that image for a second.
The volleyball was ALSO pretty amazing. I had the privilege to be playing against some of the best players in the world. The top club team, Vakifbank, won the Turkish Cup, the Turkish Super Cup, the Turkish League, FIVB Club World Championships (they were officially the best club team in the world), as well as CEV Champions League… they were decent. I got to play against all those players, many of whom are apart of the Turkish National Team, as well as many Olympians – gold medalists included. We had a slower start in our first half of the league but turned it around before Christmas break. We came back second half guns blazing and ended up taking down the 5th, 6th, and 7th ranked teams, and took down #3 ranked Galatasaray in the first quarterfinal game of the Turkish Cup. The top 4 teams in the Turkish league are pretty “untouchable” to say the least, so it’s a dogfight to finish top 8. Beating those top teams set us up nicely to finish 5th which was going to be SUCH an incredible accomplishment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t close out the last few games in regular season against some of the weaker teams we had previous beat in the first half. We ended up playing Vakifbank in the first round of playoffs and they ended up going all the way to win the league.
It was a pretty incredible year looking back on all the experiences I had – Istanbul really is the historical and cultural heart of Turkey and it was really amazing to get the opportunity to live there for 8 months.