After a 12 hour non-stop flight from Italy to Miami International Airport, Alessia Pizzocheri is drained. Recruited to play volleyball at FAU, the 18-year-old from Cesena is now on the other side of the world.
Within a couple days she is already feeling the effects of life without familiarity, without comfort, without her loved ones. It is only until fellow foreigner and teammate Darija Sataric (from Biberist, Switzerland) persuaded her that life in the United States could be fun, too, that she began to settle in.
“I was thinking about going home when I arrived,” Pizzocheri said. “I felt very lonely, homesick, missing family members early on when I got here, but I realized how Darija loved the U.S. and loved FAU. I figured it can’t be so bad.”
Yet getting acclimated to a new culture, a new lifestyle, did not come easy to her. She exhales and explains the roller coaster that was the first few days in a new world.
“It was very stressful,” Pizzocheri said. “It was a Thursday when I arrived in Florida. I got a quick tour of the campus from one of the assistant coaches and that was it. The following morning, I had to go to class and then afterwards travel all the [way] up to Jacksonville to be with the team. People were asking me questions, talking to me, explaining things, and I remember I didn’t understand anything.”
When Pizzocheri is on the court, though, you immediately sense a change in her demeanor, teammates say. There is no fear. Her spirit beams with confidence.
It is another blazing hot Tuesday and practice is in session on the sand volleyball court next to the IRT dorms. Some players are hunched over, catching their breath at every stoppage. Pizzocheri, on the other hand, is angry. As the ball gets hit onto her side of the court, she jumps toward the net and tattoos the ball, sending it through the air. A crazed expression overtakes what was once a passive look on her face, veins popping out of her arms, her pupils revealing the one thing on her mind: Attack. Wham. The volleyball slams into the ground.
Though Pizzocheri says she loves to travel, especially when venturing into states like Alabama and Kentucky during Sun Belt Conference play, she admits that living in America was a complete culture shock.
“It was kind of a dream world, or like, being in a movie,” Pizzorcheri said. “All of the things I knew about the U.S. came from the movies, so it was kind of surreal.”
Her taste in music gets her teased by teammates as well. Pizzocheri often listens to rock, punk and heavy metal and sings it at the top of her lungs.
“My suitemate defines my music as screaming music,” she laughs.
Her favorite artist?
“It depends, because I remember one time when we went to Jacksonville, I spent all of my time singing ‘TNT’ by AC/DC, so it changes month-to-month.”
Pizzocheri plays outside hitter, which gives her opportunities to be the main passer and go-to hitter for the team to score. Though she has always loved playing volleyball, she also took up track and field before devoting her full attention to the sport at 16 and playing against some of the best competition Italy had to offer.
“I just quit doing track and field because I just enjoyed playing volleyball so much.”
And although she came to Boca all the way from Italy to play volleyball, head coach Jody Brown explained FAU has had players from the Czech Republic, Serbia and Germany. He said what he liked most about Pizzocheri.
“She is very passionate, very aggressive and an outstanding passer and hitter,” Brown said. “She has a lot of potential.”
On top of playing volleyball and adjusting to American life, Pizzocheri is still learning how to balance travelling with the volleyball team, understanding team rules and keeping up school grades. So Darija Sataric, her sophomore teammate and friend, guides her.
“I just help her understand that you wanna keep your GPA high so you can avoid study hall, and [I] help her understand curfews,” Sataric said.
The Internet has helped remedy some of the homesickness she experienced earlier, Pizzocheri says. She keeps in touch with her family via Skype. And after initially feeling as if FAU and America were not the right fit for her, she says she’s had a complete change of heart.
“I love the location of the school, I love being around my teammates and coaches, and I love the weather,” Pizzocheri said.
However, one thing still disgusts her about America.
“The food is terrible,” Pizzocheri said. “I mean, I love frozen yogurt and burritos, but that’s it. Back home, I love pasta and the dishes my mom makes.”
She even begins to debunk the stereotype that both spaghetti and meatballs are from Italy. She insists that only spaghetti is and the meatballs are something Americans created. She smiles. It’s a new life, yes, and she’s loving every moment of it.