A conflict at Chicago State led Meli Rodriguez to Crookston.
Melissa (Meli) Rodriguez
Sarchi, Costa Rica
(3,710 miles from Crookston)
How did you get to Crookston?
Well, during my sophomore year at Otero Junior College, my coach started contacting other coaches who are in need of a middle, or coaches will contact him to see if he as any sophomores that want to transfer and keep on playing. Sarah [Rauen], my coach, got in contact with my coach from my JuCo, and they were in need of a middle. My coach gave her my information, and then she emailed me, and we talked about everything. I wasn’t able to visit before I came here, because I committed pretty late towards the beginning of summer.
How did you get to the junior college from Costa Rica?
When I was in high school my junior and senior year, I was sending out a lot of emails to coaches here in the United States. My dream was to come and play and study here in the U.S. It’s much easier to do that here than back home in Costa Rica. My friend from my club team, she played here in the U.S. She played in Louisiana. She contacted her coach, and I was able to send him my information. His roster was full, so I wasn’t able to play for him, but he knew my coach at my junior college in Colorado. He knew he needed a middle, so he sent him my information, and that way, my coach from my junior college contacted me. We just started talking, and, again, I wasn’t able to visit. It happened really fast. After two weeks of talking, I was committed.
How do you think things went with you not being able to visit either of the colleges you played for in the U.S.?
I think I was okay with that. It’s just very different. When you come here, it’s very different from all the images. You’re able to see how big or how small the school is. I didn’t mind not being able to visit.
What other schools were you looking at while you were at junior college?
Originally, I was going to go to Chicago State, but they had a problem. I got an offer from them, but there was another problem with a player that they had. She wasn’t eligible or something like that. She was trying to be eligible. So she contacted the NCAA, which put me on hold. They told me my offer was still there, but they had to wait for her response first, because she was already part of the team. I had to wait a really long time. I asked my coach from UMC how long she was willing to wait for me to make a decision and know what Chicago State would tell me. I just didn’t want to risk losing my offer from UMC, so I just told the coach from Chicago State I decided to come here and know for sure I’m going to have a place to go for the next two years.
Do you know what ended up happening at Chicago State with the ineligible player?
No. I have no idea.
Do you want to know?
I don’t really think so. It’s okay.
What was the draw to the United States for you?
I went to an American high school in Costa Rica. So it’s like an American school. Coming to the U.S. was something very common. All my friends are studying here in the U.S. There’s probably like two people who stayed back home in Costa Rica to study there. It was already something that was very much talked about and normal in the school I was in. I just knew that being able to play a sport, it would open a lot of doors to a lot of schools here because of scholarships. It brings a lot of opportunities for me to come to a whole new country and see how different everything is from back home. And the level of volleyball is much higher here. It’s easier to study and play here in the U.S. than it is back home. You’re able to play and study [in Costa Rica], but we don’t have dorms like we have here. You just travel back home to school.
What was a culture shock for you upon your arrival in the U.S.?
Probably the food. How different our food is from what people regularly eat here. I’m used to, every day, rice, beans, some type of meat, chicken and salad. When I came here, it was like, “oh, let’s go have a burger, let’s go have a pizza.’ It was very, very different.
What was your American high school in Costa Rica like?
It prepares us pretty well for the system here in the U.S. I went to that school, because my mom, she’s a PE teacher for pre-school at the school. Early childhood, middle school and high school were all together, so I had been there since I was a baby.
Did you feel emotionally prepared to live in a new country before you moved?
I think I was, because it was just something that I really wanted. I knew if the opportunity happened, thankfully it did, I knew I would be ready. It was a huge advantage I am able to speak English really well. I know one of my friends from my JuCo, she didn’t speak English really well, so the first weeks were kind a struggle for her. Also, I am able to help other people communicate or learn English a little better. The support from my parents also helped a lot. They really wanted me to come here. They knew that was my dream.
When did you start learning English?
In my school. At home, I speak only Spanish with my parents. All throughout my school years, all my classes were in English. I also have family here in the U.S. So my cousins who grew up in the U.S., when they’d come and visit, they’d only speak English.
When did you feel fluent?
Probably when I was going into elementary.
How long did it take you to consider the U.S. as home?
I think I was able to adapt pretty quickly, which made it easier for me to call the place where I am home. The people make it very easy too. My teammates are pretty much my family. They have been very welcoming since day one.
Was there ever a time of hardship where you didn’t think living here was going to work out?
Not really. I don’t think I’ve ever run into that. Maybe when I was having all those problems knowing if it would be Chicago State where I was going or coming here. During that period, I was wondering if I was going to play after my two years [at JuCo].
How big is your hometown?
It’s not very big. A little bit bigger than Crookston.
You were looking at Chicago, so were you hoping to experience a large city?
I kind of did want that. My junior college was in a very small town. I kind of wanted to go to something bigger, but at least here, Grand Forks is pretty close by. Also, I think about not having as many distractions here.
How long have you been playing volleyball?
For eight years.
When did you start realizing playing collegiately was a legitimate possibility?
I think probably when I was a freshman in high school. I remember going to my college counselor, and I was like, ‘I think I want to go to the U.S. and play.’ That’s something my parents talked to be about as well. Both my parents played volleyball, and my mom always said if she had had that opportunity, she would’ve taken it for sure.
What other sports did you play in high school?
How often do you get to go back home?
The past two years, I’ve gone home just for the summers. I’ve stayed here for Christmas breaks. One year, my family went to Florida. This past Christmas, I didn’t go home either.
Is it difficult to miss holidays with your family?
It is. This past December, that was my first time ever being away from family during Christmas and New Year’s. I knew it was something that would eventually happen.
How do you feel high school volleyball in Costa Rica differed from your program here?
I would say it’s not as competitive back home. Even with my club team back home, you don’t get the same type of competitiveness. Here, everyone has so much desire. They just really want to win. Back home, I’m not saying there’s not a lot of competitiveness between teams, but it is a little more relaxing. It’s not so much pressure.
Who helped you in getting acclimated to living here?
I would say pretty much my whole team. They keep warning me how bad winter is going to be. I’ve never been in such cold temperatures. This year was the first time, and that was very shocking for me. I never knew I’d be in such cold temperatures.
What do you think you would have missed out on had you stayed in Costa Rica?
Definitely improving as a volleyball player. I’ve learned so much at my JuCo and playing here. So many skills I wouldn’t have been able to learn or be better at.
Why do you feel it is important to travel?
It’s just a great experience to see other cultures, what other people do, how they live, what their daily routine is like. It can be completely different from yours. Where you’re at really defines who you are, so I think that it’s important to see how different other people can be. We can all be in the same place, but if you’re able to see a whole new culture, you’re going to learn so much from that person.
Do you have some idea of what you want to do and where?
I was mostly wanting to become a kindergarten teacher. But throughout my practicums, I’ve been able to observe different grades. I just finished my practicum observing fifth graders. So now, after that, maybe I could see myself as a fifth grade teacher. I was a little scared and intimidated.
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