COLUMBIA — As the crow flies, it is 6,460 miles from Cairo, Egypt, to Columbia.
That is 1.54 times the length of the world’s longest river, the Nile, and this time last year, Ola Shawky Nosear was relaxing on the banks of that river. Shawky Nosear, a first-year player on the Columbia College women’s volleyball team, moved to Columbia in August to begin her collegiate career after playing for four years on the Egyptian junior national team. Although she has struggled with the transition to a new home, Shawky Nosear knows there is a lot to learn from the form of volleyball that she’s experiencing in the United States.
The differences she faces are athletic and cultural, and Shawky Nosear said that both require her to adapt on a daily basis. Thinking back to her first game on the junior national team, Shawky Nosear said that she’s astonished at how differently she felt on Sept. 4 when she took the court for her first game at Columbia College.
“Here, I’m on my own,” Shawky Nosear said. “It’s my first game, and it’s the first time an Egyptian comes here to play. It’s a lot of pressure to come on my own. For me, it was more pressure to start to play here than it was on the national team.”
Not only was Shawky Nosear raised in Cairo, she also grew up with many of the players on her junior national team. She was familiar with the environment and knew the expectations she faced. At Columbia College, however, the season loomed like a blank slate, and Shawky Nosear is not accustomed to such uncertainty.
“I come in, and I do not know how we are ranked or how it goes with the team that I’m with,” she said. “Until I started really getting into the games and seeing the other teams, because I haven’t seen any USA teams, then I understood more. I’m not expecting anything when I get here.”
The things that Shawky Nosear did expect upon arrival were the technical differences between volleyball in Egypt and the style of play here, but adapting proved more difficult than she expected. After playing with a blue and yellow volleyball that is mandated by the International Federation of Volleyball, she’s still adjusting to the harder and heavier balls used in the United States. Additionally, she has adjusted to the different names of positions here; instead of calling each player by a number, there are specific names for each position in American volleyball.
“When someone will yell, ‘Hey, go to outside,’ I was like thinking I didn’t know what they were talking about,” she said. “What is that? That was strange for me. For me it is almost like English volleyball. I know English, but volleyball English, very different.”
Learning what she calls “volleyball English” required Shawky Nosear to silently observe and absorb at the beginning of the season.
“With the communication, there’s hitting and calling and yelling,” she said. “For me it’s like I’m reacting in a totally different language. I can speak English well and kind of fluently, but I haven’t like lived the experience of saying, ‘Go!’ on the court and reacting. For the first few weeks I was kind of silent and learning to absorb everything around me. I needed to learn what to say so that I could say it out naturally.”
Head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington agreed that mastering communication is key, especially for the Cougars.
“We have players from all over the world, so we are constantly trying to mesh our team and play as one,“ Wrye-Washington said.
Despite the differences in style of play, though, Shawky Nosear said that her adjustment has been made easier by the fact that both her current team and her past one had similar lofty goals and desires to win.
“The national team and here, there is the same goal. Everyone wants to be the best,” Shawky Nosear said.
Although the three-hour practices and team bonding activities take of most of Shawky Nosear’s time, the remaining free time is still a source of concern for her. She used to spend her nights in Cairo at cafés and restaurants or relaxing in boats on the Nile. But the lights and bustle of Egypt’s biggest city are a far cry from Columbia.
“I like experiencing new stuff, and for me I experienced the big city, so I had never tried to be in a small community,” she said. “So it’s a new experience I really like.”
Still Shawky Nosear gets excited when she talks about going home to Cairo at the end of the year. She purchased her airline ticket before leaving Egypt last summer, and, at the time, the eleven-hour flight was a daunting reminder of the distance between Columbia and her home country. Now, though, after adjusting to life in Missouri and a new team, she’s managed to put that distance into perspective by comparing it to a recent visit to Indiana.
“Seven hours, almost as long as eleven. So if I think about it with that, it’s not that bad.”