Soccer exchange program goes beyond the gameSeven Cloquet and Carlton soccer players participated in the Duluth Växjö Soccer Exchange, June 20 through July 3, in Växjö, Sweden (pronounced Veck-shuh).
By: Brady Slater, Pine Journal
Cultural exchange takes on many forms. In Cloquet, the pulp and paper mill’s viability as an employer is intact because of its willingness to travel and learn what the rest of the world’s mills offered. So, there’s that.
There’s also this: without cultural exchange, Adam Kangas may have gone a lifetime believing Swedes drove on the left side of the road. Why not? It’s a common assumption all Europeans drive on the left side.
“That’s what my dad told me,” said the 15-year-old soon-to-be sophomore, “but they didn’t.”
Kangas joined six other Cloquet and Carlton soccer players for the Duluth Växjö Soccer Exchange, June 20 through July 3, in Växjö, Sweden (pronounced Veck-shuh). The 14-year-old program between sister cities of Duluth and Växjö found Kangas alongside Cloquet’s Jack Waugh, 15, Spencer Mayasich, 15, Nolan Ripp, 15, Rob Sobczak, 15, Kia Peterson, 15 (the lone local girl), and Ben Peitch, 16, among the almost 90-member Duluth contingent that made the trip. Next year, the Swedes who housed each of the players and their adult coaches, team managers and chaperones will return the favor by visiting Duluth to complete the two-year circle.
On Tuesday, Kangas, Waugh, Mayasich and Ripp — talkative/polite/insightful representatives — gathered at the Pine Journal office in Cloquet to reminisce about their experience.
It began with impressive flyovers of Greenland and Iceland: places where the group glimpsed bird’s eye views of vast mountain ranges, glaciers and lava “like someone spilled asphalt all over the ground,” said Ripp. Once in Sweden, the contingent played three days of proper soccer competition surrounded by days and days of cultural immersion. The 15-year-old boys’ team even won their tournament, beating their host team twice and going 4-0-1 all told. It was a nice turn.
“It’s crazy how little a town over there can put a team together,” Mayasich said. “Towns of 2,000 people, even 200, had full teams.”
“They’re all soccer nuts,” Ripp added. The prevailing opinion was that the Swedes were highly skilled finesse players. The locals combated their hosts’ superior footwork with good old American teamwork — frustrating their Växjö hosts with a pair of 2-1 defeats.
Between games, though, the competitors became ambassadors, sharing games, food, fun, even late night sleepovers that proved just how similar boys are.
“The Swedish boys were exactly like we are,” Ripp said. “They like girls, video games and they really like fútbol.”
The group arrived just in time for Midsummer celebration – “Fourth of July minus the fireworks,” is how one of the boys put it. They all danced around a maypole, drank exotic sodas and partied properly.
Some of them visited an amusement park, while others took in professional Swedish soccer. And they sampled. Boy, did they sample.
The chocolates? “Amazing,” said all four boys in unison.
The Swedish girls? “Really, REALLY, pretty,” Mayasich said.
“I thought it was some bull,” Ripp said, “until I got there and was like, ‘Whoa.’”
The salt covered black licorice? Makes for a nice prank on friends back home. “I told a friend it was sour sugar,” said Mayasich.
The progressiveness of the Swedes? “There are roundabout everywhere,” said Waugh, who also described ocean bound windmills and a country devoted to its bicycles.
The food in general? A lot of meat and potatoes. A lot of fish, including toothpaste tubes of caviar. “I thought I’d like it,” Kangas said, “but it was too fishy.”
Kangas told of how his host father would ask before preparing every meal, “‘You want Swedish style? Or Texas style?’ Everything American to him was ‘Texas style.’”
And the dark side of Sweden? Is there one? The boys say they didn’t observe any homelessness, but they did see Iranian refugees in what would pass for a respectable slum.
Oh, and “they swear like crazy,” Waugh said. “They just don’t care.” One of his host family’s little daughters unleashed a sailor’s retort to him one day.
They barbecued. They balled — learning games like Floorball (like floor hockey) and Kubb (a lawn game). Some of them might have even broke down, as there were tears shed by members of the large local contingent when it was time to say goodbye.
Next year, these thoughtful local 15-year-olds will be driving. They’re already planning where to go — Valleyfair, for sure. And they’ll be culturally exchanging.
Kangas wants to show them how to play baseball. Spencer wants to hoop it up with the Swedes.
“I’ve been playing a lot of basketball,” he said. “I really like it.”
If these boys’ reverse experience is any indication, the Swedes will be crossover dribbling before their two weeks is out.