For this week’s edition of Ten Questions, Katie Schubauer caught up with senior middle blocker Ana Vanjak to discuss her unique experiences of transitioning to life, language and even driving in America.
1. Ana, you are a senior on the women’s volleyball team. What has Cornell volleyball meant to you over the course of your career?
Volleyball has always been really important to me. I grew up with it. I played in Croatia and in Germany, and I basically chose to come to America to be able to continue my volleyball career. In Europe you either go professional or you can go to University and here, you can combine both at a really high level. Volleyball is the biggest part of my decision to come to the states.
Who is your favorite teammate?
I love all of my teammates, but [senior] Lucy Zheng and I have had a weird connection since day one. She was one of the few people who was patient enough with me to go through my cultural adjustment. She lived in the townhouse next to me freshmen year, and no matter what it was — even if I was running to her in the middle of the night freaking out and begging her to help me with an essay — she was always there ready to help. She has been a really great teammate and friend.
2. Having grown up in Croatia, what is it like going to school in the United States?
It was definitely a really big change. I’m not going to lie; I was completely lost in the beginning. The whole cultural adjustment was just not so funny for me but hilarious for everyone else. That goes for the language adjustment, too. There are a lot of things that are totally different from where I’m from. Things that might be normal to people here are completely strange to me … And the other way around, of course, too. Like at first, whenever I would see someone [I knew], I would give them two kisses on the cheek. I completely freaked people out with that. I eventually stopped doing that because everyone was just wondering, “What’s up with the foreign girl walking around kissing everyone?” when I was just trying to say hello.
Your friend Lizzie Calvert tells us about your “introduction to American culture” that she gave you. Can you describe what that was like?
She basically taught me the basics of American culture. Stuff like you have to eat ketchup with everything. She forced me to try sushi, which I didn’t like in the beginning, but I guess now I’m getting used to it. She introduced me to peanut butter, which I absolutely hate still.
3. In addition to your “introduction to American culture,” you were also given driving lessons by some of your teammates. Is that true?
(Laughing) Yeah, well Lizzie was the only person crazy enough to let me try driving because I am terrible at it. I can operate a boat but not a car. First I think I prayed for like 20 minutes because I was so scared. I also drove on the wrong side of the road. It was definitely an experience; I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life.
Have you driven since then?
No, definitely not. It was a one-time thing.
4. Most of your teammates have said your English has improved significantly over the past three years. Did you ever make any funny mistakes when you were learning?
Yeah, well one time I ordered “toxic water” instead of “tonic water.” I said in front of my coach, “I can’t wait to pass away,” where I actually just meant, “pass out” because I was super tired. Stuff like that happens a lot. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I guess I am getting better.
Was it hard having to speak English in class?
A little, yes. Actually, I really like when my professors have accents because I can understand them better. It’s the slang that was hard for me because half the stuff you guys say isn’t even in the dictionary. So my teammates actually bought me a slang dictionary. I used to carry it around so I could figure out what people were talking about. I still have it.
5. How often do you speak Croatian at Cornell?
My roommate, Nina, is actually from Croatia so I speak Croatian to her all the time. I don’t know how our other roommate lives with us because there is just so much Croatian going on in our apartment.
You two are obviously very close. Did you know each other before?
No. We met on her official visit. She plays tennis, and I begged her to come here. It’s really nice to have a fellow Croatian at Cornell. We are really close. I am really lucky to have her.
She claims you two spend 80 percent of your time together. Is that true?
Actually that’s false. I would say like 95 percent. Our favorite song is “I Follow You” because we are inseparable. Maybe it freaks people out that we are together all the time. I don’t know.
Some of your teammates claim that you sometimes curse in Croatian when you get upset on the court. Is that true?
(Laughing) Um … Well … No, no, no. I actually only say really nice things in Croatian. Really encouraging things — never anything bad.
6. Can you describe your spring break trip to Miami last year?
Oh, wow. I don’t think there are words to describe that. It was absolutely amazing. We went to Miami without a plan. We were just going to see what it was like. Then we ended up in the VIP section with David Guetta and Skrillex.
How did that happen?
Just a group of tall girls with accents — I guess that helped. We just got into any place we wanted. It was amazing.
7. Why are you obsessed with the movie Pride and Prejudice?
It’s a really, really good movie! I’m a romantic and I love it. I love old movies like that. You might want to also ask [my friend] Deveney Pula about that. We’ve watched it so many times together. Her obsession with that movie might be worse than mine.
8. Some of your teammates have mentioned some interesting nicknames for you. Can you describe how you got some of them?
Well, my roommates call me “Handy Momma.” Basically, that was created when we were trying to build a closet. I am kind of the momma in the apartment. I take care of everything, and I cook, and I can use tools pretty well. My dad is a civil engineer so I may have gotten that from him. I’m good with machines and tools and things. People at home call me “Ana Americana” because I have gotten Americanized over the past couple of years ... Or at least, I am trying to get there.
9. What is cedevita?
That is my favorite drink. It’s like Gatorade. Nina and I consume it in kilos … Or I guess pounds since we are in America. You can’t buy it in the states so whenever someone visits us from Croatia, that’s the one thing they have to bring.
10. Which other Cornell team do you like to hang out with the most?I love the whole athletic community. And I have some really good friends on a lot of teams, but I would have to say the men’s club volleyball team is definitely one of my favorites.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you?I’d just like to give a shout out to Michael and the gals. And everyone should come out and support us!