I was completely absorbed in football until I entered college. I played soccer at a so-called prestigious school and participated in the youth national football team of Japan.
But in the latter half of my second year in high school, I began to get injured a lot and could not play in the matches. I did not even get to sit on the bench for my last match in high school. I then looked back at my life and felt like there was a hole in my heart. I began to loathe football and decided to quit for good. But that was easier said than done. I played football for 15 years, therefore it was not something I could easily give up. I reproached myself for quitting and even suffered from anorexia.
At that time, I received a phone call from an acquaintance of mine who played football in Germany. He asked if I would be interested in playing football in Germany. I was uncertain on what to do, but I decided to go for it. Yet my body was not in shape since I had not played for almost three months. There was no way things were going to be easy. I tried out for various teams, but I had no chance. I was vexed but I determined that I could not quit soccer because of this. Hence, I decided to continue playing football.
First, I went back to Japan and enrolled in college. I joined the college football team and practiced hard to prove to Germany what I am truly capable of. I went back to Germany in June and tried out for the selections. People teased me for being small and even said, “The kid’s selection is at the other ground.” I supposed that was understandable, because Karlsruhe, the team I applied for, was known as a distinguished team. People from all over Europe gathered to try out for the team. But out of all the people, I was able to pass. There were about 50 to 60 people, and I was the only one that got chosen. I was overjoyed. I chose to join U-19 Karlsruhe and went back to Japan to get a visa. But my life was about to get turned upside down.
I finished my exams and was on summer break. I got my visa, asked for a year's leave of absence from school and fled to Germany. As soon as I arrived, the team I was supposed to play for told me that they did not remember signing a contract with me. I was supposed to play football with their team, live in their dorm, and make a living with the small amount of money given. But everything disappeared before my eyes. I had nowhere to go, so I went to the city my acquaintance had lived and looked for other teams while staying in hostels. I somehow managed to join a team in the city of Ansbach. It was a team for a small town, so there were no dorms, and no money was provided. Consequently, I had to look for an apartment on my own. I was such a fool. All my life, I only played football. I could not even speak a word of English, more so German. I knew things were going to be rough. I ended up living in a hostel for quite a while. Let me assure you, it was horrible. The cheapest room had 12 people sleep in the same room, and the people changed daily. The system was more like renting a bed than renting a room. In the end, I stayed there for two months, and a lot of things happened in between. First off, there was bullying. This was when a group of college students from some countries strolled along.
In any case, I got many things stolen such as my underwear, clothes and sandals. I could not stand it anymore, so I wrote a note in English saying that I wanted my things back. When I got back to the hostel, they had given back a pair of my underwear on the bed. But it had urine all over it. I wanted to cry. There were also times when I wanted to take a shower after training but there was only cold water. The shower was in the room everyone slept in so I had no choice but to take a shower the next morning. Even when I did shower, I somehow did not feel so clean due to the massive hair that was clogged up.
One morning, I headed to the supermarket to get some food. Everyone brought their own bag and used it as a shopping basket. I learned from my surroundings and did the same. I went up to the register, paid for my food and left like I always did. But a Thai came out of nowhere and stopped me. I could not understand what he was saying so I showed him my bag and receipt. Supposedly, there was a packaged ham hidden in the corner of the bag, which meant that I did not pay for it. I was taken to the back of the supermarket, not understanding a word they were saying. Soon later the police came and I rode the patrol car to the police station. To make a long story short, I was accused for shoplifting. The police questioned me but like I said before, I could not communicate with them. Therefore, the police went out to look for restaurants that had Japanese workers so they could translate. There were only a few Japanese restaurants that were actually managed by a Japanese but they finally found one after the 5th restaurant. She was a Japanese woman who had lived in the city for a long time. I explained my situation at the supermarket, and I was thankfully freed from the police.
The woman came to Germany tens of years ago and was married to a local. I had exchanged numbers with her when she helped me out with the police. She kindly told me to call her if I needed anything. One day, I got a phone call from her and she invited me for a cup of coffee. I talked to her about football and how I was looking for an apartment. Then, she told me that there was an apartment that was not being used and offered me to stay there. The apartment was not ready to be moved in yet, so she invited me to her house for the time being. After great difficulty, I was finally able to leave the hostels.
Her house was very big; the woman lived on the first floor and her son and daughter’s family lived on the second floor. I stayed with her daughter’s family for about a month. Her daughter was half German and half Japanese so she spoke a little bit of Japanese. She lived with her husband and two children. I played football with her kids whenever I did not have practice. At that time, they were three years old and one year old. They were very adorable. You see, they were my German teacher. The one year old couldn't talk yet, but the three-year-old could already speak. I could not speak German at all, but the child would point out and say, “This is a table” and teach me. Surprisingly, I learned to speak a little bit of German within that month even though some of the words were baby words. But I was truly able to spend a wonderful time.
In case of soccer, it took me approximately two months to receive a pass from foreigners. Moreover, I did not get to play in the matches. But in my first match, I was given the important role of #10. I only thought of it as a practice match but it was actually the first match for a big competition called the German Cup which I found out after the match was over. I also found out the opponent was the team that teased me when I first tried out for the selections in Germany. I was quite pumped when I saw the opponent's #10 was the U-19 representative player of Germany. But my teammates did not keep quiet when the #10 jersey was given to a Japanese. Some even disagreed to play in the match but we were thankfully able to play the match. This became a match I could never forget in my life. Even though my teammates refused to pass me the ball at first, they began to pass along the way, as if my thoughts got across to them. People in the stands even began to cheer for me too. Out of all the games, I felt as if I were able to perform my best in the match. We went all the way to the penalty kicks and were able to achieve victory. It was the best feeling in my life. The match was brought up in the local newspaper the following day with an attached photo. I was glad to have continued football. In the second season, I was appointed the top scorer and was offered an extended contract with a sponsorship, but I decided to go back to Japan.
I experienced many things in Germany and used all my strength to live my life. I realized that football was not “everything.” When I was in Japan, I was too strict towards football. For instance, I never ate greasy food and never drank soda and alcohol. I also practiced harder than anyone else. But I never seemed so ridiculous as when I came to Germany. Germans drank beer no matter what the result of the game is. They would drink to celebrate the victory and drink to forget the loss. There were times when I practiced on my own and the coach told me that I was being too strict on myself. He said, “If you have enough energy to practice on your own, work harder on the drills I give you. You have to believe me! If you are going to practice, do not work longer than 15 minutes. Your body will get tired.”
Practicing on my own was one of the ways to appeal to the coach in Japan, but I guess it was different in Germany. He also said, “Do not think about soccer on your days off. You think too much.” He even took me to the club to get my mind off of football. This is how I matured as a person and I felt a great deal of achievement when I headed back to Japan. But above all, I hoped to communicate better with my coach, teammates, and friends. Once I got back, I enjoyed football as a hobby and began to study German.
Now, I am studying in South Korea for my last semester. Actually, I also went back to Germany for six months as an exchange student and I went to Ireland to study English for seven months. Therefore, I am able to speak four languages right now, although I was kind of stupid. Of course, football is my treasure even today. But it is not the only thing and football taught me that. I made a lot of friends by playing football and was able to exchange with various people. Life is great right now, and I am absolutely happy. I would say football is one of my languages so that I can communicate with people and make new friends. However, I realized the most important thing for my life is not football, but it is something else like meeting people.
Naoto Oishi Exchange Student
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