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Mikaelsen thriving at Wisconsin

first_imgIt is a difficult transition for any college student to move away from home and settle into a new place. The shift to a university means adjusting to a new home, new friends and a new lifestyle – this can be daunting to even the most well-equipped high school graduates.Now imagine experiencing this life-altering transition when your home is more than 4,000 miles away from campus, English is a new language and the sport you were recruited to play is not even your primary sport.Welcome to Julie Mikaelsen’s freshman year.Mikaelsen, a 6-foot-3 junior from Askim, Norway, did not even get her start in volleyball until she was 17. Growing up in Norway, her sport of choice was team handball.However, the head coach of the Norwegian Women’s National Volleyball Team, Mikaelsen’s father’s colleague, had other thoughts on her athletic direction.“‘You’re ruining your life playing team handball, you need to start playing volleyball!’” Mikaelsen imitated.After an initial rejection to the new sport, Mikaelsen joined the women’s national team with only a month’s experience with volleyball.She picked up the sport quickly, as she was named captain of the U19 national team in 2008. In that same year, she was named outstanding hitter of the Nordic Championships. “I realized volleyball is really fun, because when I played it at home, I didn’t think it was that fun,” Mikaelsen said.After realizing her passion for volleyball, she opted to attend Sand Vidaregaande School, a volleyball high school that was an eight-hour drive from Mikaelsen’s home in Askim. Students there lived in dormitory-style housing where studying and playing volleyball took up every free moment.Mikaelsen gained valuable volleyball experience at Sand Vidaregaande. In addition to improving at volleyball, Mikaelsen learned how to live on her own at an early age.Still, despite her familiarity with independent living, nothing could prepare her for her move to the U.S.“It was probably one of the toughest things that I have ever done in my whole entire life,” Mikaelsen said. “Everybody’s speaking English 24/7 and I’m still speaking Norwegian … suddenly everything was in English; that was really hard for me.”Although she spoke some English, it was not her first language growing up in Norway. The language barrier made communication with her teammates on and off the court difficult at first.According to head coach Pete Waite, Mikaelsen had trouble talking to players on the court, as she was tempted to shout instructions in Norwegian during bang-bang plays.Waite has been impressed with Mikaelsen’s transition to an American lifestyle and the English language.“She gradually, bit-by-bit, has gained total control of the language, and if you talk to her now, you don’t know where she’s from,” Waite said. “[She] could be just a Midwest kid.”Senior Bailey Reshel recalled how timid Mikaelsen was when she first joined the team. Reshel said it took Mikaelsen about a year to become comfortable with her new team and her new language.As a junior, Mikaelsen is one of the most vocal players on the team. “She thinks we’re all really, really loud people,” Reshel said. “You’ll hear her say, ‘I’m going to be an American today.’”Since arriving in Madison, Mikaelsen has improved significantly in her performance on the court as well as the English language. She has become a more consistent force on the front line, averaging 2.60 kills per set at a .302 hitting percentage, good for second best on the team. Mikaelsen was also named MVP of the InnTowner Invitational Tournament earlier this month. Part of her improvement has come from her training with Norwegian National Team during the past two summers. Waite said Mikaelsen enjoyed a lot of playing time at home as well as being a star player for the team.“She’s getting some good training with the national team, both on the beach and indoors,” Waite said. “She was really pleased [that] every time she goes back home, they notice what a big change she’s made in her confidence and her play.”While Mikaelsen has made huge strides since coming to Madison, she still misses Norway. Specifically, she misses the home-cooking of her parents and grandmother.“I try to make the same [food], but it’s not the same when I make it as when they make it,” Mikaelsen said.Mikaelsen has come a long way from her days playing handball in Norway. She has added English to her repertoire of languages that includes Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, German, Spanish and Portuguese, and has become a potent offensive threat for the Badgers.Just four years after learning volleyball, her goal now is to have an opportunity to play volleyball for her country after graduation.“That’s my dream,” Mikaelsen said. “I want to see if it’s possible for me to play in Europe … After a while, maybe play beach volleyball for the Norwegian National Team. That’s my goal.”last_img

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