July 25, 2016
Ramblinwreck.com caught up with former Yellow Jacket Courtney Felinski as she embarks on her second professional volleyball season in Europe.
RW: Tell us about your first season in Finland – mainly how did the volleyball compare to the U.S., what was your schedule, and what was Finland like?
CF: Playing in Finland was a really challenging but rewarding experience. Our league had 10 teams total, and the level varied. I’d say most of the time it was comparable to college volleyball, and it was similar to the ACC in that everyone could beat everyone. You had to show up and compete every match, no matter who you played. We practiced twice a day every day, and two of our morning sessions each week would be lifting. We usually had one match each week, on Saturday, but sometimes we’d have a mid-week match or back to back games on Saturday and Sunday.
Finland was…a lot of things! The people were extremely kind and welcoming right from the start. I immediately felt at home, and our club sponsors were so generous and made a lot of effort to make us feel comfortable, which was great. The country is beautiful, especially in the summer when there is zero humidity and the hottest it gets mid-seventies. Amazing. Then there’s winter, which was ROUGH. The coldest temperature we experienced was -38 Celsius, and I just about died. It’s so cold it literally takes your breath away. I never thought I could or would live somewhere that cold. One perk was that the sky was almost always incredibly clear, which meant we had the most insane view of the stars, and we got to see the Northern Lights! I saw them twice, which I’ve heard is really lucky. I had some teammates who were from Finland who had only seen them once in their life.
RW: Did you have anyone visit you in Finland from the U.S.?
CF: I had so many more visitors than I expected! I had two friends from Tech come and see me, and my parents came for Christmas. They came to Pihtipudas for a few days and saw a match, then we spent a few days in Helsinki. It was awesome to have them come see what my life was like there for themselves.
RW: What did you do for fun in Finland?
CF: There were three other foreigners on my team, an Australian, a Croatian, and another American. We all lived in a house together, so if we stayed home we’d hang out, cook, try to do yoga and laugh at how horrible we were at it, etc. If we had a day or two off, we would borrow a car or hop on a bus and go to a nearby city to shop or see a movie. We actually met some Americans playing on a men’s team in a nearby city and hung out with them a couple of times, which was really fun. It was just nice to have other foreigners to talk to who were dealing with the same challenges.
RW: What was your favorite part about Finland culture?
THE BUNS! They take their pastries very seriously, and they are seriously amazing. An old lady would sell homemade buns and pastries at our grocery store every month and I went crazy every time she was there and bought like fifty. I regret nothing.
RW: What was one thing that surprised you?
CF: How their schools are structured. A few of my teammates were finishing up high school, so we got to learn a lot about how it compares to the U.S. I’d say that in Finland the last year and a half of high school are about equal to our freshman year of college in America. One time, they got their hands on an old copy of an English final exam, and had us foreigners take it. I nailed it somehow (#liberalarts) but it was so, SO hard. I now understand why high school graduation is such a huge deal for them. And their college is so cheap. Oh my goodness. One of my teammates was complaining about how her tuition got raised from 90 to 120 euros per semester and when she saw my reaction she immediately apologized. Those Finns know what they’re doing education-wise.
RW: You’re headed to Germany for your second professional season. What team will you be playing for, when did you leave and how long will you be there?
CF: I’ll be playing for the club Rote Raben in Vilsbiburg. I left on July 21 (EEEEK!) and our season ends in May.
I’ll live in an apartment in Vilsbiburg, which is about an hour east of Munich. I signed with an agency after my Finnish season, so I told my agent what I was looking for in a team and he came back with a few options. I’d heard good things about the German league and how competitive it is, and Rote Raben made me a great offer, so it was a pretty easy decision.
RW: What are you looking forward to most?
CF: Playing again! I’ve been training at home, but it’s not the same as being in an actual match. And I can’t wait to get to a new place and experience a new culture again. The length of the season is tough, but what I love is that you’re fully immersed for such a long time, so you get the full experience of what it’s like to live there.
RW: Do you have any hesitations or worries?
CF: I’m not worried about anything specifically, but I know every team and season comes with its own set of challenges, just like anything else. I think it’s best to go in with a positive attitude, ready for anything.
RW: How can we follow along?
CF: For pictures, volleyball stuff, travel stories, and anything else funny/interesting/embarrassing that happens to me, follow me on Instagram (courtney_felinski) and my blog, findyourcrazy.wordpress.com. I’ll be all over those! For strictly volleyball stuff, my club’s Instagram is rote_raben, and they have a Facebook page as well.