By LARRY VAUGHT
She once had a chance to attend the University of Kentucky and play volleyball but Rachel Waters admits she was a “stubborn teenager” who wouldn’t accept anything less than a full athletic scholarship, so even though she grew up a UK fan she ended up going to Coker University in South Carolina where she played volleyball.
She graduated in three years at the top of her class and went to England to get her Masters in corporate communications and played professional volleyball at Bournemouth University where she got to travel to most European countries competing while getting her education paid for.
“I worked a placement with the Premiere League soccer (football) team, AFC Bournemouth, where I helped in the media, communications and marketing departments. From there I transferred teams to a professional team in China. Upon moving to China (in October of 2018), I’ve found a job as a TV broadcaster (aka actress) for a children’s interactive television show,” Waters, who did a college internship with NBC Sports in Texas, said.
One thing has never changed with her — she’s always been a Kentucky basketball fan and despite various obstacles in China still tries to follow the Cats all she can.
“A large portion of my family lives in Kentucky, so I grew up visiting them on the farm. My father, uncles, and cousins all attended UK. So growing up with Bluegrass blood, it was never really a choice for me. I was born into it (Big Blue Nation) you could say and I’m very thankful for that,” Waters, who grew up in South Carolina living with her mother, said.
“When I was living in England in 2017 I struggled to easily access any type of American sport on TV. In England, it’s required to have a TV license if you have a TV in your house. The pubs and restaurants are usually playing English sports — unless you ask but the answer was usually up to the owner or the majority.”
She lived in a house with six other Americans and says it was ironic she moved overseas to delve into different cultures and then was was placed with all Americans. But that did provide a plus when it came to watching sports.
“We had a projector and streamed games on our living room wall when we could,” she said. “There were many times I couldn’t watch the live games either due to the 7-hour time difference or my busy schedule. So I’d always keep up with it on my phone or watch reruns and highlights the next day.”
Once she got to China, she realized following Kentucky in England was “easy” because China “blocks” most things western.
“A VPN is a must. The only available search engine is Bing. Jowever the internet is heavily censored by the government, so without a VPN or if the VPN is down, keeping up with anything back home is near impossible,” she said. “The 14-hour time difference also makes it tough to watch live games unless it’s on a weekend when I don’t have volleyball or work. It’s not the easiest but I’m managing.”
She admits she’s had a “beautiful life post-college” and doesn’t regret not going to UK.
“But I always have been and always will be a die-hard Cats fan,” she said.
Not everyone is brave enough to move overseas after three years of college to pursue a professional volleyball career and/or Masters degree. Waters had always wanted to travel and experience other cultures. She didn’t want to be a person that later in life would say they “wish they could do that” but didn’t do it.
“I didn’t want to be another person just dreaming my life away with wishes. I was also determined to prove to all of the people who said I couldn’t do it wrong. So I developed the ‘watch me’ mentality and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made,” Waters said.
She played volleyball throughout Europe and North Africa against a wide range of competition.
“But being able to play alongside and against girls from all over the globe made me appreciate the world we live in even more. My coaches were Olympians, Commonwealth Games standouts, and representatives of their home countries for this beautiful game. Being surrounded by such successful and genuinely good people motivated me to want to be better every day, as cliche or cheesy as that sounds,” Waters said.
Making the move to China was a logistical nightmare because she was trying to authenticate documents in the United States while while living in England. She credits her father for helping immensely with the process even though her visa was delayed for about two months.
“I was so busy with all the documents and deadlines that I didn’t have time to sit and think about this huge life choice I was making — until I sat on the plane. Once I was in the air, I realized how alone (physically) I was in that moment. Doubts started to flood in — when would I see my family again? What am I actually getting myself into?,” Waters said.
“But once I looked out the window and saw mainland China, I got really excited for this new chapter in my life that I created for myself. I’ve been here for half a year now and I’m enjoying it. The initial culture shock is eye opening. The way of life is different to anything I’d ever been exposed to. I’m learning new things every day about sports, day-to-day life, and habits in China. So every day is interesting.
Waters says TV was a natural career path for her because she loves to talk and learn. She also feels she is “good with people” but also has been lucky to have career paths available for her to try out.
“With TV/communications, if you have the right knowledge or personality, I feel like the options are endless. Whatever you’re interested in, whether it be sports, business, technology, you name it, there’s always an option — as long as you know your stuff of course,” Waters said. “During my undergrad, I had an internship with NBCSports where I’d help with editing videos, presenting, creating verbal and written content, and more.
“In England, I had the pleasure to work in the communication, media, and marketing department with AFC Bournemouth, a Premiere League soccer ( team. During my entire volleyball career, I’ve had experience in front of a camera during interviews and highlights. I’m now a TV presenter for a successful company in China. So I like to think that I made the right career choice.”
Yet as successful as she’s been, she misses her family in the United States. In China, she sometimes goes days without speaking to family because of technology issues instead of having the every day interaction she prefers. While she’s had to adapt to that, she would like an opportunity career-wise to come back to the United States.
“My big dream is to have my own talk show one day. But I want to make an impact wherever I end up. Career-wise, I see myself staying in the TV/communications route,” Waters said. “However, I would eventually like to come back to the U.S. I miss my family and hardly ever get to see them being so busy and so far away from home. That doesn’t mean I would be opposed to traveling for work because I still have that deep desire to explore. But I do miss my family and the states, Kentucky in particular.”