THE MITCH STAHL FILE
- 2013: 1st-team AVCA High School All-American for Chambersburg (PA) high school
- 2014-2017: middle blocker, UCLA Bruins, finishing 2nd all-time in career aces and 3rd in block assists and total blocks
- 2016: 2nd-team AVCA All-American and 2nd-team All-MPSF
- 2017: HM AVCA All-American and 1st-team All-MPSF
- 2017: Competed for Team USA in Pan Am Cup (Gatineau, Quebec, Canada) and NORCECA Men’s World Qualifier (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
- 2017: Signed contract to play with Paris Volley in French Ligue A (Current Stats)
If you’re like many who follow this sport, you may get the occasional social media update about a favorite player competing internationally. We wanted to dive deeper so we caught up with former UCLA All-American, Mitch Stahl, who recently started his rookie season with Paris Volley in French Ligue A. The conversation ranged from the restroom situation in France to similarities between the world-famous City of Lights and Mitch’s hometown of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Enjoy.
VM: Had you been to France prior to signing with Paris Volley? Tell us about your first experiences with the country and culture.
MS: Prior to this summer, I had never left the United States. The Pan Am Cup [in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada] was my first time “officially” leaving the states. For the first week or so, I was in total culture shock of everything–literally everything was blowing my mind: the structure of the buildings, the size of the cars, the many different markets and the lack of huge supermarkets everywhere. Also, the way people dress and look here is quite different than the states. It has been an intriguing experience thus far.
VM: Did you know the language at all?
MS: When I got off the plane, I didn’t know a lick of French. Bonjour was about the extent of my French knowledge. However, a lot of my teammates are French and my coach speaks French during practice so my ears have started to pick up on the accent and some key words. I’ve done my best to speak a little whenever I can, especially when I go into stores and markets because the French appreciate it when you try. Now that I’m settled in after one month, I will try to speak and learn more actively. It’s been fun experimenting with a new language so far.
VM: What other countries and leagues had you been considering?
MS: France was the only one. I signed early because I knew I wanted to be in a big city and Paris offered me a solid contract so I took it.
VM: What has been the hardest part about the transition to another country and culture.
MS: The hardest part, believe it or not, was getting to and from practice at first. I had never taken public transportation in my life and now I take it every day. I didn’t understand the way it worked when I first got here–and to add to that–everything was in French. Since my phone still has an American SIM card, I didn’t even have a phone to look up stuff when I was outside my apartment’s wifi range. I had to learn to navigate the city and use public transportation the old-fashioned way by using intuition and maps. I actually like that much better than having a smart phone telling me what to do.
VM: What has been the easiest part?
MS: I don’t think there’s anything “easy” about making a huge shift in your life when you move from one country to another. However, it is not the first time I have made a huge shift in my life. I moved from rural Pennsylvania to Los Angeles five years ago when I was 18. That shift was huge. I would say it was the equivalent of the shift I am in the middle of right now. So with that, I’ve had the experience of being thrown into a new environment and being forced to learn quickly, adapt and take care of myself. Those experiences translate quite nicely to my life here in Paris. Obviously, the details are vastly different, but the process of adapting is pretty much the same. With that being said, drawing on my previous experiences has made it much “easier” than if I came straight from Pennsylvania to Paris. The LA step was crucial to my ability to transition here.
VM: What has been the most unexpected thing?
MS: Water closets and public restrooms. I didn’t know using the restroom could be so challenging. When I first asked where the closest restroom was, they looked at me funny. To them, a restroom is a place where you quite literally rest–like a lounging room with couches and maybe a TV and a PlayStation. Here, they call it toilets or a water closet. And to top it off, the sinks are shared by men and women while the toilets for each gender are on opposite sides of the room. There aren’t two separate rooms for men and women in most cases. In hotels, they have a water closet that’s about 4 ft. x 4 ft. consisting of only a toilet. Then, there is another room a little bigger for your sink and shower. It blew my mind the first time I saw that.
VM: What’s it like to be living in Paris itself? Can you share some highlights of that experience?
MS: It’s wonderful. There’s so much to do and, honestly, it’s an overwhelming feeling. I’ve got friends and family saying “you gotta do this” and “you gotta see that” and I just don’t have enough free time to do it all while still focusing on volleyball. Good thing I’m here for two years. Paris is a city that has a small-town feel to it in a sense. I know it’s an oxymoron, but let me explain. On my walk to practice, I pass a small wine shop, multiple bakeries, multiple butchers and my bank. Everything I need is within a five-minute walk and the same people work there and I see them all the time. I walked into the wine shop that I live above the other day and I was wearing a sweatshirt from my club. The owner waited on me and asked about my PUC logo. He knew my teammate who had come in before and started asking more about me. It was one of many encounters that reminded me of my hometown where you are more than just another customer.
VM: What has the experience of the matches themselves been like?
MS: Growing pains. The game here in France is a much different style than the NCAA and even national team competition. We don’t have your Matt Andersons, Aaron Russells, and Max Holts who are super physical dudes that crush high balls against three-man blocks. Instead, we have a lot of guys who are less physical with extremely good ball control. I mean, these guys can see a hole in the block every single time and hit it 10 times out of 10 for a kill. It has forced me to really think strategically about how I have to approach the game to grow and develop as a player. It has been great for me and I’m excited to keep learning.
VM: What does your typical week look like? How often do you practice? Scout? How much free time?
MS: We lift twice a week and practice six times a week. We watch film as a team for roughly 2-3 hours before each match during the week. I’ve got anywhere from 6-8 hours of free time each day if you include time between practices and mornings off.
VM: How have interactions with your teammates been? Tell us about the adjustments that need to be made when the team speaks so many languages and comes from so many different cultures.
MS: My teammates have been nothing short of awesome. They embraced me from the moment I got into town and treat me very well. They’ve helped me get acclimated to the culture and I’ve even picked up a little French slang from a couple of them. When playing with many different countrymen, it’s important to pay attention to what they say and when they speak their native language and when they don’t. I try and greet my French teammates in French and actively try and learn their culture. People loving talking about themselves and where they come from, so I try to give them a stage to do so. I just ask a couple questions and listen when they speak and I’ve already learned a ton about France and Europe in my five weeks here.
VM: There are some former NCAA players in French Ligue A like UC Irvine alum Michael Saeta on Chaumont VB 52 and Long Beach State alum Amir Lugo-Rodriguez and Lewis alum Greg Petty on Rennes Volley 35. Do you stay in touch with them?
MS: Yeah, I speak to Saeta more frequently than the others. I played against all three so it was nice to see some familiar faces on the other side of the net.
VM: What do you wish you would have told an earlier version of yourself that would have better prepared you for this experience?
MS: Take learning a language seriously. If I would have known that I would end up where I’m at now, I would have taken the time to learn the language so I could do anything in the city and really get to know this culture and these people on their turf instead of having to get a translated version of it. But I’m here now so better late than never I guess.