Level 1

The nerd in me would liken the first few weeks abroad to the clueless, initial moments of gameplay on a brand-spanking new FPS or MMORPG (that’s First Person Shooter and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). You know when you’re impatiently jamming every possible button trying to skip that never-ending opening storyboard scene because you just waited 4 months for this new Call of Duty preorder to arrive and all you really want to do is hurry up and beat the campaign so you can devote the rest of eternity to playing Zombies. You know what I mean? Of course you do. And in that haste, you finally get to gameplay and realize it may have been beneficial to pay attention to some of the dialogue or general character/plot developments because now you’re completely lost on the mission objective.

Here you are in war-torn 2050 something , a newborn, wondering around a CGI wonderland hoping that some tutorial notification is going to pop up and, in the the least, explain how to get something other than the glorified pocket knife sitting in your otherwise empty weapons tray. Let’s be real, even though it’s only the first mission, melee-ing your way through a advancedly weaponized war zone  to the next checkpoint sounds like a daunting task. So the quest begins to unlock every friendly care package, skill, and perk under the Activision sun so you just might have a chance to survive before an unmanned drone jams your UAV recon, you get sniped… or you accidentally blow yourself up with a poorly thrown grenade that ricochets off the edge of the map and lands square in front of your avatar.

You may think it’s a stretch, but the first few weeks abroad feel very much like a survival experience. In Verona, I collected my life’s possessions (two suitcases, a duffel and backpack) at baggage claim knowing not a single soul or lick of functional italian. Outside of customs, the Gmail/WhatsApp contact formerly known only as “Mike Italy” magically sprung from digital obscurity into real world existence. It was a forty five minute ride from Verona to Trento. Forty five minutes I should have been asking strategic “survival” questions instead of anxiously worrying about getting to my apartment so I could sleep. We pull into town, eat, and the next thing you know I’m standing alone in my apartment armed with keys to a VW Tiguan, a portable 3G/WiFi hotspot and my credit card—arguably a little better than a pocket knife.

Over the next couple of weeks it’s all about building the skills (read, the courage) to turn off the GPS and leave for practice a bit earlier than usual. Sure there were more trying challenges to survive during this time— physicals, conditioning tests, media days, and training camps in the mountains—but I like to concentrate on the small, often overlooked triumphs.

There are few things more gratifying than being able to get to the gym, or anywhere for that matter, without getting lost. I remember pulling into my apartment for the first time without the assistance of Google Maps and waiting for a shiny badge of achievement to fall from the heavens above. Or when I approached dangerously close to the end of my boxers/spandex supply and decided it’d probably be a good time to learn the laundry contraption in my bathroom. The first time it rumbled to life, water actually started pouring in and parts started moving, all I could think was “New Item Unlocked”.

The first few weeks are peppered with these moments. In the grocery store looking for eggs that aren’t kept in the refrigerated section. Or knowing about the plastic gloves and weighing/ticketing produce before checkout. Having a lady from your apartment building run out in an explosion of italian and stop you because she saw you carrying your recycling down in a black bag. The particulars about passing the salt. The list goes on.

So far, Trento has been a whirlwind of learning on and off the court. Perhaps my imagination gets away from be a bit, but thankfully there haven’t been any “poorly thrown grenade” blunders. I accredit much of that to the people—coaching staff, front office, teammates, and fans—who enthusiastically help smooth out the process in any way they can. Seriously. One of my first weekends, I tweeted my McDonald’s Sunday dinner misfortunes after I couldn’t find an open grocery store. Halfway through the second of three double cheeseburgers (a DQPC, large fry and Fanta) I received a reply notification (complete with Google Maps screenshot) directing me to one of the only 24/7 grocers in the city. Like I said, it’s the small triumphs.

For now, I’ll keep my hotspot charged and Google Maps/Translate on my home screen. There’s still plenty to learn. I plan on keeping it that way until the day I leave.

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