I met Nica Kovalcik when we moved into the same entry as first-years. We quickly bonded and are now living together in Fayerweather Hall. I sat down with Nica to hear about her experiences playing volleyball at the College and working as an EMT in Israel.
When did you start playing volleyball?
I started playing volleyball my freshman year in high school because I happened to be friends with a girl who dragged me to the first day of tryouts because I was maybe five foot ten inches at the time — I’m six foot one inches now. By a stroke of luck, I went from freshman to JV to varsity in one day and ended up playing varsity for four years in high school and decided to play in college. I decided to wing it.
You tore your ACL last summer. How did that happen?
It was at this Russian-type Coachella event. It was for a getaway weekend with my brother and my mother, and there was a really informal grass volleyball game going on. I decided to join because my mom pressured me into showing off my moves. Five minutes into the game I went up to get a ball and on the other side was a shirtless Russian man. He collided into the net with me, and I landed on my left foot. My body weight went forward, my knee went the other way, and I just collapsed – little did I know that it was a torn ACL. I was walking on it five minutes later thinking it was a sprain. I text my coach, “Oh don’t worry, I’ll be back in a week,” and then I went to the doctors and realized that it was torn. I had to get surgery the next month and I was out for nine months.
What is this Russian Coachella event?
I highly recommend nobody going to this event ever. I rated its existence one out of five stars because you can’t rate it a zero on Facebook. It’s called Jetlag Festival, and it’s meant for 20-something Russian-granola-type people. My brother found it through his Russian friends and decided it was a good idea to go. I call it the plagued weekend. It brings back memories.
And you have a name for your ACL, right?
Yes, Alice. I named it Alice because of the letters ACL, and my brace is named Wonderland because of the irony of the whole situation. Alice inside Wonderland.
What was it like coming to Williams and being on the team, but not getting to play?
I felt like I had a place on the team, and, of course, the coach and my teammates were really supportive. There was always that feeling where you don’t have the ownership that you would if you’re playing, and I was used to that the past four years being on varsity. Not having that in my life for nine months was really difficult, primarily because it was my outlet when it came to taking a break from school work and life, so that was kind of a struggle.
This summer, you went to Israel. What did you do there?
I was an EMT. The fact that I spent two months saving lives in another country is still kind of is baffling to me, because it is so unlike what I imagined my summer to be like. When I heard that this was a possibility from daily messages, I was super taken aback and afraid of the responsibility given to me, especially when I have no qualifications — I’m the most unqualified person to be taking care of people. But I went out on a limb and I took that opportunity. I got on a plane at the end of May and went on Birthright for 10 days and then went on my program called Onward, where they set you up with an internship for two months in Haifa, Israel. It is a northern city. It is actually the only city in Israel that is a melting pot of Muslim Arabs and Jews, and they live peacefully and coexist. Taking care of these patients was super fascinating because I got to see their perspectives and learn about the conflict through a completely different lens. Pretty much what I took away is that it’s not all black and white. It’s not are you pro-Palestinian or are you pro-Israeli, it’s more complicated in that the issues that are brought up in this conflict are not just religious. Their history goes back so far, and [people] have so much family history and dignity, and both countries really hold grudges They don’t like letting go of the past because it’s really important to them. And moving forward from that, I’m thinking so big-picture right now. The conflict just isn’t going to be resolved any time soon. But [as for being an EMT], I can tell you that taking blood pressure and pulse wasn’t the only thing I got to do.
What else did you get to do?
I got to be hands on when it came to seeing near-death situations and seeing death at times. I had really intense calls usually during the night shift that would last from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. That’s when more of the “spicy calls” would happen, and that’s when the station would assign the Americans to go. Only people 18 and older could volunteer, and all the 18 to 22-year-olds are off in the army doing their national service for two years, so they don’t actually have anyone else. There were four of us. I actually did it with two other Williams students, Avital Lipkin [’19] and Daniel Brandes [’18], and we all did night shifts and got different tastes of what it was like to work in the field. There were some really intense calls and also some calls that really weren’t that intense. I got to talk to the patients in Russian as well as conversational Hebrew because Haifa is known for it’s Russian-speaking population. I got to meet the most interesting people in my entire life. There was this one call where I met this woman named Rimma, my mom’s name. She and I got along so well … She invited me to her house to eat some Russian food and I had to refuse, but she told me that her granddaughter worked in a makeup store in a mall that we were going to go to. Me and my driver and the two daughters we were babysitting went and met up with Rimma’s daughter in the makeup store. I realized that that was my favorite day, despite all the craziness that I had seen. They were just so welcoming, and it was just so rare to find people like that, at least in a place where you have no family. I actually felt like I identified with them so much, and it was really heartwarming.
What training did you do before you could be an EMT?
I went to Jerusalem for ten days for an intensive course. It was 60 hours long and you had to take a test at the end of it. You had to get above an 80 to pass. Everyone passed because they really wanted you to pass. It was with 60 other international volunteers. They came from the United Kingdom, Canada and South America.
Does this tie to anything you intend to do in the future?
At this point, I think being an EMT would be emotionally draining because you reach a point where nothing phases you emotionally, and that concerns me, personally. I want to be sensitive when it comes to someone going through a really tough time. As an EMT, you have to set your emotions aside and become desensitized to everything. So I want to go into medicine, but I also don’t want to become someone who just treats patients like they are objects moving from station A to station B. I want to be someone who a patient can reach out to for medical treatment, and also be more than someone who just treats people. I want to have a meaningful relationship with them. Hopefully the next eight years won’t be too tiresome.
You’re from Brookline, Mass., which is basically in Boston. What was it like coming to the Purple Valley?
It is strange and different, but I’m still in the same state so sports teams don’t change. The total dynamic of being the Masshole also doesn’t change. Obviously an urban town like Brookline is such a melting pot to all kinds of people, and being exposed to that at an early age was so important to me and really shaped who I am now. Taking a step back from that and realizing that there are other ways of living, like in rural areas, and meeting all the awesome people that chose Williams has been eye-opening. I think this was a healthy choice because it’s so different than what I’d been used to. I’m not a huge nature person and want to spend my future in a city, but honestly, I think that these four years are going to be really healthy for me — putting myself out in the middle of nowhere and focusing on getting things in my brain and seeing where it takes me.