by Alexandra Kiosse
As I sat in the poorest country in Europe looking at a dirty lake, I wondered how I came to be there. Every year, I would go back to my hometown to catch up with relatives, and to play volleyball in a camp where my grandpa coached. The Moldovan sports camp where I usually spent my summers had everything a coach could hope for, and was the source of my exhaustion. There was a soccer field (where the grass hadn’t been trimmed since the days of the Soviet Union), a sand volleyball court (which our volleyball group had to build by hand), and a lake (which was always an ominous shade of murky green).
Every morning I would wake up at 6:30 to a recording of trumpet music over the loudspeakers. I would step out of the small wooden cabin, into the green environment with the other decrepit, moldy cabins staring back at me. This was the only time during the day that the smell of pollen overpowered the smell of sweat. I practiced three times a day, two hours each, running sprints in the unbearably hot sun with the boys my grandpa coached year round.
When I wasn’t on the verge of heat stroke, I would spend time by the lake answering my friends’ ridiculous questions about America: “Why do you want to live in New York, I heard there are no trees there,” and “Is everyone in the U.S rich?” I realized how little we knew about each other’s lives. During the long, hot days, we would all do our conditioning for our respective sports. But in the evenings, we would sit at the mosquito-infested picnic tables across from each other, playing our Q&A game with only a deck of card between us. They left with some knowledge of basic English, and I left with a glimpse into a different culture and way of living.
Now, towards the end of the summer, as I sat by that dirty lake I had come to admire, I missed my home in New York, but I knew that I would fly back with more to think about. Looking back now, I realize just how much these summers in Moldova affected my identity. The athletes I grew with, both in character and in skill, taught me as much about passion, discipline, and resilience as those daily 6:30 am sprints. My gratitude for the sport I play, the people I’ve met, and the things I learned knows no boundaries. Even though this camp is no longer a part of my life, those experiences will continue to mold me into the person I will be in twenty years.