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How does an 18-year-old from Porto Alegre, Brazil end up in Tempe, Arizona?
Well, a budding volleyball career might do the trick.
Roberta Rabelo, a senior volleyball player for the Sun Devils, embarked on a journey of more than 20 hours by flight to the United States all in pursuit of the chance to step onto the court in a Sun Devil jersey.
At outside hitter, Rabelo is only the fourth Brazilian to play volleyball for Arizona State University.
Having competed in year-round club programs during her high school years in Brazil, where there were no dedicated high school volleyball teams, her agent introduced her to the concept of becoming a Sun Devil.
“I chose ASU for the university and because my agent was friends with my other coach here – they knew each other and then she recruited me,” Rabelo said. “It was a very good opportunity and (my coach explained that) it’s going to be really good for you if you want to achieve your future goals (as a) professional volleyball player.”
In her fourth year at ASU, the skilled Brazilian has made the most of her time in the United States, even seizing the chance to explore beyond its borders.
On top of a busy athletic schedule and getting her bachelors degree in communications and digital culture, Rabelo has taken it upon herself to travel the world in the little bit of down-time that she has.
The inspiration was ignited the moment she crossed paths with fellow ASU player, Beatrice Badini of Italy.
A knack for exploration formed by a boot
Upon joining the Sun Devil team, Rabelo became fast friends with middle blocker Badini, who came to Arizona from Castellanza, Italy.
Although Badini was one year above Rabelo, the two quickly made plans to visit each other’s home countries. Rabelo had always wanted to explore Italy, a place that her parents had once visited.
“When I met her, we became best friends and of course, we were like, ‘Oh, you have to come visit me in Brazil – you have to come visit me in Italy,’” Rabelo said. “I didn’t want that just to be like, ‘Oh, yes, you have to come visit me. Oh, yes. I’ll come visit you’ and never (do it).”
Thus began the start of her knack for exploring new countries and new worlds.
So, in 2021, instead of spending her spring break in Arizona conducting her usual routine, she chose to book a flight to Italy to visit her best friend’s stomping grounds.
“I wanted to do something different,” Rabelo said.
Her first stop on what she had yet to discover would become a bucket list of countries and cities that she would yearn to visit was officially in full swing.
An added bonus to her exciting new journey, her newly acquired boyfriend just so happened to also be going to Europe around the same time. She now had a traveling companion.
Rabelo spent a week and a half in Italy, exploring the terrain with an expert tour guide in Badini. Upon the conclusion of her time with Badini, Rabelo’s boyfriend joined her out of Germany and the two backpacked all throughout Italy.
A trip to the boot kicked-off many more adventures for the duo with another in Oman, a country located in the Middle East where her boyfriend had connections. Yet another person insisted that Rabelo come visit them across the country.
Her response – you do not have to tell me twice, I will come.
Building a bucket list of destinations
Since her start of exploring only three years ago, Rabelo has been to more places than most will be in their entire life and she does it all on a very diligently thought out travel budget.
How else would someone in their early 20’s afford to jet off as much as she has?
“We just get cheap places to stay,” Rabelo said. “In Paris we stayed like 40 minutes (away) from the city because it was very expensive (and) we want to go (to) as many countries as we can and spend less money, (so) instead of staying in Paris for 10 days in a good hotel, we stay there for three days in a cheap hotel so we can go (to) more countries.”
For now, instead of exploring the ‘finer things in life’ in each city, the two mostly spend their time backpacking and traveling with a single carry-on bag to each destination.
While she loves the minimalist life now, she made it clear that she fully intends to go back and revisit Paris at one point while she is not on a time restriction or a tight budget to have a “really nice dinner in a really nice hotel.”
In total, Rabelo has explored over 15 new countries since she started her adventures.
She has visited Italy, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Ibiza and Spain – just to name a few.
During the upcoming year of 2024, Rabelo has plans on doing it all again, but with different destinations of course. Her main goals for next year include visiting Portugal, Asia and Australia and seeing more of Germany and the Middle East.
“My dream is (to) go to Australia and maybe live there one day,” Rabelo said. “It’s very nice to see the mountains. I would love to visit more of Switzerland, I’ve been there just for layovers.”
She knows that she has a time limit on these adventures and that is why she is approaching each one so rapidly, getting as much done in the short amount of time that she has in each location.
So, for now, it is go-go-go for the young Brazilian.
“One day we’re gonna have kids or you know, it’s gonna be way different,” Rabelo said. “Everything’s gonna be different so right now, we just want to get as many countries (in) as we can. Right now we are in college, it’s the young life, we have this energy to walk around this much.”
From the moment she embarked on her journey, she developed a deep affection for not only discovering unfamiliar locations, but also delving into their histories and cultures.
Something that she hopes to be able to continue to do through her communications and digital culture major.
“It’s just so fun to get to know other cultures and I am just in love with that and I love languages,” Rabelo said. “I love learning new languages and new cultures and getting to know new people and their stories throughout their countries.”
Added to Rabelo’s list of countries explored is of course the United States. Her ideals of what the country was like prior to her tenure at ASU was solely based on Hollywood and Disney World.
“I (had) been to the U.S just twice, in Orlando,” Rabelo said. “So I didn’t know a lot about the U.S besides Florida and California. I knew that California was Los Angeles, you know, like Hollywood and all the famous people were there. Then Orlando in Florida was just like Disneyland (World).”
She hysterically added that she knew “there was like… cowboys.”
Not far off to be honest. It is always interesting to learn how an outsider sees America.
After committing to ASU and choosing to live in cowboy country for the next four years, she still was unaware of just how hot Arizona would turn out to be. She assumed it would be cold for at least a little while to give her a break.
Boy, was she mistaken.
Instead, she got peak temperatures of 120 degrees during the summer months and slight breaks during December and January with highs of a cool 68 degrees.
Granted, she could not be happier to have chosen Arizona as her temporary home.
“I love (it) here, like I literally love (it) here,” Rabelo said. “Since I don’t have a car, for me having a scooter and bike in the sun is way better (than) if I would have gone to a cold place or snow and rain.”
It is truly the perfect college town as long as you can bare the August temperatures as school begins each year.
One that Rabelo has bared for four years, now in her senior year at ASU, as she contemplates her post-graduation aspirations.
“(Playing professional) is in mind,” Rabelo said. “It was one of my plans (and) being here, it’s good to find job opportunities, being a coach or working towards my degree. So I can find opportunities here with that and then I also have the professional player part, which is something I really want.”
Undeniable Opportunities for #18 and the Sun Devils
She is also drawn to the prospect of a professional volleyball career in Europe, and with a four-year statline like Rabelo’s, she unquestionably has numerous opportunities available.
This year alone, she has played in all 17 matches for the Sun Devils and has contributed the third most points on her team with 141.5, adding 125 kills, 63 digs and four service aces.
In just 17 matches for the team, Rabelo has already smashed her previous bests in nearly all statistical areas since her first year with the team in 2020.
She has been a star since her arrival in The Valley and has played in 87 matches over her career, finally finding permanent footing on the court this season as she has appeared in every match thus far.
A one-loss start to the season is the cherry on top to Rabelo closing out her stint with the Sun Devils. She knows the team will face ups and downs during the season, but is ready to take each one head on.
The team had initial goals of being in the top-five rankings of the Pac-12 and currently stand at No. 3 behind Washington St. and Stanford. There is still a lot of volleyball to be played this season, but they have already smashed their goals and are ranked No. 23 in the nation.
“(We want to) be a good team, be relentless, play with love and passion between ourselves and just keep growing,” Rabelo said. “Take (it) one step at a time. My main goal and of course everyone else’s it’s (to) make the tournament. (That would) be very, very nice for everyone.”
A postseason goal that is very much within the Sun Devil’s grasp.
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