European exchange students add to Newaygo Soccer
Story and photos by Tara Hefferan
For the second Spring in a row N3 has been privileged to have Tara Hefferan covering the Newaygo Lions Soccer team with photos and insights into their matches.
Here she shares the unique story of how six exchange students from across the pond have helped give the team an international flavor while contributing to what has thus far been a very successful season.
Soccer brings people from around the world together. This is true of Newaygo Lions women’s soccer, too, which includes six European exchange students. Levinia Marquardt and Johanna Bartsch come from Germany. Filippa Hollmark and Viktoria Ringh hail from Sweden. Laura Haavisto is from Finland, and Claudia Louzao is from Spain.
The exchange students wanted to come to the USA in order to meet new people, improve their English language skills, and partake in the American high school spirit. Nowhere is that spirit more alive than in this tight-knit soccer team, where friendships are central to Lion success. “All the jokes and laughs we have had, the team is really amazing and we always have so much fun” says Hollmark.
The girls look forward to game days, and they especially enjoy the away games, where riding the bus and team-bonding are part of the experience. After the soccer match in Hart, for example, the bus made a detour for an all-American meal at McDonald’s, which was “pretty fun” said Bartsch.
Of the six students, only Viktoria Ringh and Laura Haavisto are soccer players back home. Both typically play defensive roles on their home teams, but here in Newaygo, Ringh has found herself more often in the midfield, while Haavisto has been spending most of her time as a striker. Commenting on soccer in Sweden, Ringh says, “Soccer at home is much more common and available in every different way. It’s the same rules, but people don’t know as much about soccer here in the US as home.”
While soccer is more popular back home, Bartsch and Marquardt said that in Germany, there are no athletic teams associated with the high schools. Soccer is played only through clubs. In Finland, Haavisto practices with her club team three or four times a week, with games on the weekends. As Ringh reports, “one of my dreams as a kid had always been to play soccer in high school.” Newaygo Soccer is making that dream a reality.
Here in our small town, there are plenty of opportunities for international students to get outside of their comfort zones, which several girls said is necessary for the full American experience. “Don’t be afraid to try something you never did before, do as many things you can do, use every chance you get, enjoy it!” said Marquardt.
Soccer is about community. It unites people across language, culture, and nationality. It is “The Beautiful Game,” and it shines brightly here in Newaygo. Says Bartsch, “I am really happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be part of this amazing team. It is one of the best things I did this year, and I will really miss every single one of the players.”
In total fifteen international students attend Newaygo High School in the 2021-2022 school year as part of the Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA ) exchange program. CETUSA is currently recruiting host families for the next academic year.
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