Soccer – Sport of Choice for Bridging Differences

Football means different things to different people. Here in Clarke County its annual arrival signals the start of a new school year as young mean pull on helmets and pads to test their strength and courage at Feltner Field. Yet many people in Clarke County and across the world are tuning in to watch a different style of “football” this week as World Cup competition is broadcast from South Africa

“So many of the teams we are watching and reading about represent the same countries from which our students come,” says PAX Coordinator, Tanya Barton of Berryville, VA.   Barton serves as a local representative of PAX – Program of Academic Exchange, a non-profit educational foundation which arranges US home-stay and high school experiences for teenagers from 40 different countries.   The students arrive in August with the hope of becoming “sons” and “daughters” in American families.

PAX exchange student and soccer player Max Menke will return home to Hitzacker, Lower Saxony, Germany later this month

“Despite the ideological and political differences that exist between nations, when athletes are on the soccer field, those differences evaporate. Soccer is one of the few things that can bridge cultures,” notes Barton.  “Hosting, like soccer, can also bridge cultures,” Barton adds.    “When a foreign student gets to know Americans by becoming a family member and experiencing the everyday life of an American family, and sharing the customs and traditions of his homeland, the differences give way to what is shared.” Students like Jorge from Brazil and Jurgen from Germany are not superstars, but both are passionate about soccer and look forward to becoming a member of an American host family.

A host family is asked to provide a separate bed (can share a room with host sibling of same gender and similar age) and a quiet place to study and to set an extra place at the table for meals taken at home.   Students arrive with a basic knowledge of English, a spending allowance and full medical coverage. A host family need not have teenagers, and single parents and retirees can apply.

Barton invites local families to bet on the World Cup winners by hosting a student from a world cup soccer country.   Barton has information about boys and girls from Spain, South Korea, Italy, Ghana, Germany, Brazil, Serbia and Venezuela, with a passion for soccer as well as interests in cycling, music, basketball and cooking.   “Our students not only will bring the spirit of the World Cup into your home,” notes Barton, but, Barton adds, “By the time you say good bye to your student at the end of the school year, everyone will be a winner.”

As the 2010 school year draws to an end Barton’s current PAX class is preparing to return home. Barton says that her PAX students are full of mixed emotions. “They are excited to see their natural parents and friends back home, but hate the idea of having to say goodbye to their American family and friends.”

As Clarke County PAX host families and students begin to contemplate their good-byes the Clarke Daily News offers its last PAX student profile installment, German PAX student Maximilian Menke in his own words:

CDN: What is your name?

Maximilian Menke

CDN: How old are you?

Max: 16

CDN: Where are you from (city, state, country)?

Max: Hitzacker, Lower Saxony, Germany

CDN: When did you arrive in the US?

Max: 8/25/2009

CDN: Had you been here before?

Max: No

CDN: How does the US education system compare to your home country’s education system?

Max: In Germany there are 3 different kind of schools. “Lower Level Schools” “Middle Level Schools” and “Higher Level Schools”.

CDN: What is your favorite class at Clarke County High School? Why

Max: P.E. Because I like sports.

CDN: Are your classes here more difficult or less difficult than your classes at home?   Why?

Max: Less difficult, just because I took easy classes.

CDN: Clarke County has been debating whether the books “The Color Purple” and “The Hand Maiden’s Tale” should be included in the advanced reading program? As a visitor from another country, what is your opinion about this?

Max: I don’t know these books, I am not a   big reader.

CDN: What have you enjoyed the most about your time in the US?

Max: Our Trip to D.C.

CDN: What have you enjoyed the least about your time in the US?

Max: I don’t know

CDN: Brag about yourself a little

Max: I was a successful soccer player.

CDN: What are your plans for the future?

Max: Graduate from school, go to college and then…well I don’t know.

CDN: Would you recommend a PAX experience to another member of your family? Why or why not?

Max: Yes, because it is an unforgettable experience.