Playing Soccer in China: More than Just a Game


For weeks this year,  I had a pretty relaxed summer. I was hanging out with family and going out with friends. But at the end of June, I received a phone call from Sylvers Owusu, SBP’s Varsity assistant soccer coach,  about a team that was going to China to play two soccer games. The team was called Newark Forward, and was composed  of 20 male soccer players from the Newark area.

The twenty players on the squad represented  a variety of high schools including East Side, Central, Barringer and St. Benedict’s. Players from SBP included current students Julian Gomez, Kalleb Braga, Sunil Das, Skyler Cunha, Alcides Jordan, me, as well as alumni Max Blacker ՚18, Davi Alves ՚18, Brian Pacelli ՚18, and William Dukevicz ՚18. The trip was run by the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), and funded by the Mayor’s office.

Mr. Owusu was to serve as the head coach of the team, and  lead the trip. We visited two, beautiful, reportedly up-and-coming cities located in the heart of China: Guiyang, and Shenzhen.

Overall, it was an extremely interesting trip, and there were a few things that really surprised me.  The twelve-hour time difference between the region where we were traveling and home really messed with my sleep schedule, both during the trip and upon my return. At the other end of the spectrum, representing happiness, was the food and the way we were treated.

Before this trip, the farthest east I had traveled was Israel and, even then, the time difference was seven hours. And that was similar to the time difference in most of Western Europe, particularly Spain, where I lived for 5 years growing up. But China is on the other side of the world and the time difference is twelve hours. The flight took fifteen hours and that, combined with the time difference, swallowed up our first two days there. We were scheduled to have a ten day trip, and the first two days were already complete.

We left Newark Thursday night from JFK in New York. The time difference really confused me; when I arrived at  the hotel Saturday night, I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning, it felt so weird that it was Sunday and that it was the first time I would be having breakfast since Thursday. It took me a few days to get used to the time change. I would spend the late morning and afternoon being extremely tired, and by the time 9:30-10:00 p.m. would come around, it felt like the morning. It took until the last two days for me to get used to the time change. This continued to affect me even after I returned home. I was jetlagged for almost a week!

Food has always been a huge part of my life, especially since I’m Italian. When you’re feeling down, the only way to make you feel better is to eat; when you’re happy, you celebrate with food. When it came to the style of food, going to China offered a culture shock for me. To be sure, there are a lot of similarities between the way the food was served, especially in terms of scale.

Everything was served family-style in China, and food items were available to all. I was comfortable during meals because the style was similar to home. There was always more than enough food and it was always a great social experience. The main difference between my family food culture (Italian-American) and that in China, is the variety. Obviously, there are an infinite number of Italian and Chinese dishes you can make. But when it comes to Italian-American food, there is a clear distinction between all of the meals. There’s specific food for the meals of the day. But in China, the same sort of food is eaten during each meal: rice with fried eggs, noodles, and some sort of juice. This made it  more difficult , as the enjoyment of food is a key part of my American life.

Most interesting was how we were treated, in terms of the level of attention and concern.  I knew we would be noticed because some of our physical characteristics are different from most Chinese people. Everywhere we walked, people stared. Some people would walk up, stare, then walk away. When we played soccer against Chinese home teams,, the fans and opposing team members showed such respect. I had never played in a soccer game where the other team actually cared for us. If they tackled us they would make sure we were okay. When we scored, they would clap. It was an amazing and new experience. Even after we won both games, the opposing team stayed back and wanted to get to know us.

These were more than soccer games. These were chances to get to know people that we would never meet otherwise..

This trip to China opened my eyes to a new world.  Most people seemed more likely to care about the group than themselves. I am so glad I participated. .

I had seen the respect for community before. I am, after all, from St. Benedict’s. And it reminded me that caring for others is a powerful approach to living a life.