Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cattolica International

Setting New Paths: Julia's Journey through Volleyball from California to Milan

By Maria Elisa Bizzotto


Until the end of 2019, Julia DiBona's world was an echo of bouncing volleyballs and the rhythmic thud of athletic shoes on the court. Beginning at the age of 12, volleyball quickly became more than a game and transformed into a fundamental pillar in Julia’s everyday life. The passion and dedication she poured into every practice and every match propelled her skills to new heights. Volleyball was no longer a sport – it was a lifestyle, a constant companion in Julia’s journey through adolescence. Her teammates and coaches became her extended family, with whom she shared late practices, nail-biting games, victories and defeats. These experiences transcended the court and became threads in the fabric of her identity. Through teamwork and intense dedication, Julia discovered strengths within herself. The discipline required for rigorous training translates into a formidable work ethic, the adeptness at working effectively in a team proves invaluable in both professional and academic aspects of life, and the sense of responsibility towards her team fosters a profound understanding of commitment and perseverance. Julia's growth wasn't just measured in points scored or matches won, the lessons learned on the court became the building blocks of her identity.

As Julia embarked on her collegiate volleyball journey, she first found herself on the courts of South Methodist University in Texas, and later closer to home, at Pepperdine University in California, where she pursued a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Yet, as the pages of 2019 turned, Julia stood at a crossroads, confronted with a bold decision that would redefine her path. Opting for change, she made the courageous choice to step away from the volleyball court. In the American college sports scene, where the competitiveness of athletics frequently shapes one's university experience, Julia's choice to leave volleyball was unconventional. In her words, "I quit because I wanted to explore different aspects of the college experience beyond just volleyball." Motivated by a desire to experience university life beyond the boundaries of sport, and to fuel her passion for traveling and exploration, Julia set forth on a new adventure.

After saying goodbye to the familiar rhythm of college sports, Julia embraced an opportunity to study abroad and moved to Florence, Italy. Her semester in Florence proved to be a monumental chapter. Julia began to learn Italian with enthusiasm and experienced navigating the challenges of life in a foreign country. However, with a radiant smile on her face, Julia reflects “I loved it, just getting an entirely different experience – being obvious in simply how you grow in your independence.” This experience proved to be a transformative one which validated her decision to leave volleyball with the richness of her cultural immersion. Her time in Florence expanded her perspective, highlighting how there is more to life than a single pursuit, such as volleyball. This realization opened several paths, especially within her evolving career in creative writing.

After having returned to California to complete her bachelor’s Julia was faced with choosing the path for her next chapter. Eager to build upon the incredible experience in Florence, Julia was drawn to the prospect of studying abroad again. After having stumbled upon the Master’s degree in the Art and Industry of Narration at Università Cattolica, she recognised a unique opportunity. The alignment of her academic aspirations and the programme’s focus felt like a perfect fit for her evolving career in the creative writing industry. Milan, beyond academic considerations, would allow her to deepen her connection with the language and culture she had come to love in Florence. The city’s unique blend of tradition and modernity became a new canvas for Julia's personal and academic growth.

Settling into the rhythm of Milan's lively streets, Julia faced the challenges of adjusting to a new city, community, and academic course with a positive mindset. Eager to connect with people and explore her surroundings, when Julia came across the university’s women’s volleyball team, she decided to jump into the unexpected and try out for the team. In this unique chapter of her life, she turned back to volleyball, a sport she had previously left, as a means to immerse herself in a new community. The experience proved to be exceptionally positive. Julia was welcomed by a diverse and supportive group of skilled players who embraced her with open arms. Strikingly, the language barrier, often the most formidable challenge for international students, dissolved on the volleyball court. The court became a space where communication transcended words, and the universal language of sport quickly forged connections among players. Playing the sport she loved alongside others, whose shared passion was complemented by a collective focus on community building was different from the pressure to perform and win that Julia had become accustomed to back home. Thanks to the new connections made, Julia found a community within her teammates, fostering a sense of belonging and ultimately enhancing Julia's Milanese adventure in ways she hadn't anticipated. Overcoming challenges with the strength of community by her side became a defining aspect of Julia's journey.

Julia’s journey from the competitive courts to her adventures in Milan illustrates the transformative power volleyball has had in her life. What began as a passion and fundamental pillar of her adolescent years became a lifestyle and source of identity. Julia’s courageous decision to step away from collegiate volleyball, although difficult, marked a pivotal crossroads in her life. It demonstrated her commitment to exploring new and diverse aspects of her life beyond the confines of sport. Julia's outlook played a crucial role in shaping her future career in the creative industries as it brought her to Milan. Here, Julia's unexpected return to volleyball showcased her unwavering courage to challenge herself in new ways. It became a means not only to reconnect with a sport she loved but also to build a sense of community in a new city. Through these experiences, Julia continues to exemplify resilience, courage, and a relentless pursuit of self-discovery, reinforcing that the journey is just as meaningful as the destination.