Coming to GW takes its toll on newest volleyball player

Going off to college can be a harrowing experience – from stuffing a van with one’s worldly possessions to tearful goodbyes between parents and their children.

But few students at GW have had the experience that faced Gabriela Mojska – the newest player on the women’s volleyball team – as she came to Washington, D.C. from her native Slovakia.

“It was stressful,” she said with a rueful smile. “It was a long trip.” Long is probably an understatement – the trip to D.C. lasted more than 17 hours.

But Mojska’s problems began before she ever left the ground. She didn’t know she would be able to leave until just seven hours before her scheduled departure, when she finally received her visa. Federal Express made a small miscalculation in making the delivery of her visa – it sent the package to Slovenia, not Slovakia.

“That’s just one of the things that can happen when you recruit foreign players,” GW head coach Susie Homan said. “I mean, the wrong country, that’s tough.”

It was only the extreme maturity and calmness displayed by Homan’s newest player that led her not to worry, Homan said.

“Not very many college students would be as collected as Gabi was, and that says a lot for her as a person,” Homan said.

With just seven hours until she had to leave, Mojska became busy very quickly.

“I had to say bye to everyone, my grandmother, my friends,” Mojska said. “It happened very quickly. I was out until two in the morning with a friend, came home and slept for an hour, and then, my mom woke me up at three, and we left.”

The journey had begun. Gabriela experienced her first difficulty when her friends got lost on the way to the airport in Budapest, Hungary.

“It was them and not me,” she said, smiling. After asking for directions, they finally arrived at the airport with one minor problem – it was the wrong airport.

“There are two, so we had to rush 10 miles to the other one to get my bags checked in,” Mojska said.

Then, another problem arose.

“There was a two-bag limit,” she said. “I said `Look, I am going away to college for two years. I am a student. I really need these three.’ The supervisor made an exception.”

After the two-hour drive, the flight began. First she took a two-hour flight to Brussels, where she waited for two more hours before catching her next flight to New York, which lasted eight hours. She then spent an hour and a half going in customs before she finally boarded a plane for D.C. An hour and a half later, she arrived.

Now, she is here to play, by way of Slovakia with a two-year stay at San Bernadino Junior College in California.

“I came as an exchange student to learn better English and played volleyball on a rec team coached by the coach at San Bernadino,” Mojska said. He invited her to play for the varsity team.

“I was so excited to go to school in the U.S.,” Mojska said. “I like change and the challenges that come with it.”

When her coach suggested GW as a place with a good international affairs department, she jumped at the chance.

“I mean here the girls are so nice, and they work so hard,” Mojska said. “I love it.”

But she said she misses her family, and visits them in the summer and e-mails frequently.

“I want them to come to the United States for the first time for my graduation,” she said.

Mojska and Homan look forward to this season. Both speak with enthusiasm of the team’s prospects and the hopes that the student body will support them.

“This team has the potential to win a conference championship and be one of the best GW has ever had,” Homan said. Both player and coach are complimentary of one another. Mojska spoke of the sound fundamental nature of her teammates and how they and the coach have made her feel at home. Homan said, so far, Mojska’s effort and hard work have been phenomenal.

Thursday afternoon Mojska was posing for pictures underneath an overcast sky at the front entrance of the Smith Center near some sunflowers.

“I hate taking pictures, because I can never smile long enough,” Mojska said, waving at friends as they entered the gym. “I had a cousin who was a model and quit because when she would read a book the other models would wonder what she was doing. Like all models are supposed to be stupid. I don’t blame her this taking pictures can get old.”

She smiled and looked away from the lens through the open doors of the gym toward the nets she knows so well. She stood calm and confident and it didn’t seem like she was far from home at all.

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