Skjold Aallmann is 17-year-old exchange student from Thuroe, Svendborg, Denmark. He played for the Penn Boys Soccer Team this Fall.
I remember sitting in Central Park at the age of 13 with my family, eating New York pizza and watching the local youth baseball team practice. We were only visiting New York for 10 days, but the number of cultural impressions I felt throughout those days made me certain that this wasn’t the last time I would visit the States. Four years later, and the Dane is now living his dream as an American citizen.
As a kid who grew up in Denmark 4,000 miles away from Chick-Fil-A and big pick-up trucks, it has always been a dream to come experience “The American Culture.” So I was quick to grab the chance when the opportunity of an exchange year appeared. This will be a brief examination of what my experience has been like so far after two-and-a-half months in the Hoosier State.
The USA is a country that has quite a lot of stereotypes. That makes sense when all we hear about the U.S. in Europe is what the media chooses to let us know. We all know the media, and talking about how friendly the American people are, would probably not sell very well. This is sad considering how much more the U.S. is besides gun policy and fast food. I’ve barely been here three months and I already feel at home in Mishawaka, Indiana. I think that says a lot about the culture and the people within!
The way that the soccer team welcomed me to the team and how the players opened up their hearts for me is something that will stick to me forever. The same with my host parents and basically everyone around me. The hospitality and helpfulness that people show is something that you can only dream of when entering a foreign country with foreign people. I still remember how some of the guys after the first practice I had with the team took me with them home and gave me school spirit wear so I wouldn’t miss out. That is truly something that I admire and it taught me that most people in the U.S. do good things because it’s a good thing to do and not because they earn something from it. This seems to me to be a very Christ-like thought that I wish was what we would get taught in schools in Denmark, instead of political standpoints that the teachers disagree with.
The huge transition from coming from an almost completely academic school in Denmark where the most sport you would have is PE once a week, to Penn High School, where there is an Athletic Department that gives you the best opportunities a young athlete could wish for, is just amazing. America is truly the land of opportunities.
The amount of energy and effort the coaching staff and the school put into the students in order to help them reach their goals and peak performance is something unique. There is nothing stopping you from putting in the work except yourself.
I remember I was quite nervous about what I would do in the context of playing soccer on a different continent on a different team. But compared to how soccer is played in Denmark, the difference is surprisingly not that big. In Denmark, the main focus throughout practice is to master the basic things and develop a secure touch in order to create good technical abilities. Which the ‘Penn Highschool Team’ already mastered when I got here. I think that was what separated us from most of the teams we played throughout the season. A second thing I admired and found really inspiring when I got here was the amount of discipline that was connected to the team. Everybody was so focused on doing their best on the game field that it was the decisions that led up the game the day before that mattered. I quickly realized how much passion that was connected to this team and it was something I had never tried before back in Denmark. The team wasn’t just a group of young players who liked kicking the ball. No, this team was a family who was put together because of the love and dedication each player showed to the game. I don’t think I realized how much the team meant to me until we lost the sectionals finals and it all of a sudden just was over. The bond I had created with the team in barely three months was something special. And if there is anything I’ve learned so far in the short period I’ve been here, it’s to remember to value the good times while you’re in them.
My first couple of months in the states have truly been fantastic. I got to play my favorite sport, hang out with friends, experience a new culture, watch football games and eat true American food. It might just sound like an ordinary week for most Americans reading this and it probably has been, but that’s the exact purpose of my whole journey here. To become a part of “the everyday life”. The big difference between American and Danish culture makes every day here in the states an experience in it itself. I remember two Sundays ago, I was sitting in church and a certain calmness flew over me when I realized I was living the exact dream that I for so long had been dreaming about. I couldn’t stop smiling because I realized the only thing I had to do now was to enjoy it.