Kids Pick up Culture While Playing Soccer Overseas

GREENSBORO--Brea Richardson has swum all over North Carolina with the Greensboro YMCA teams. She has been to the Bahamas and Mexico on family vacations, but she never has been across the Atlantic Ocean.

The farthest Winston-Salem soccer player Cameron Kapec has been from the continental United States is Hawaii.

But that all will change when the two 14-year-olds land in Amsterdam. They will join nearly 2,900 other U.S. students in Holland as sports ambassadors for the People to People program.

The program began in 1999 as a branch of the student ambassadors programs founded by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Jeff Geldien, the People to People sports director, said the aim is to give athletes a greater understanding of the world around them through international competition and cultural exchange.

Richardson and Kapec applied for the program, got recommendation letters from two coaches and did telephone interviews with staff members. After being accepted last winter, they have attended monthly orientation meetings to learn about their host country and the things they needed for a 10-day overseas trip.

Kapec, who left Thursday for the Netherlands, is looking forward to meeting new people and gaining independence from his parents while improving his soccer skills.

"I want to learn more about Holland, make more friends and to become a better soccer player," said Kapec, who plays club soccer for the Piedmont Triad Football Club in Kernersville.

Kapec and Richardson are rising high school freshmen--Kapec at Glenn, Richardson at Grimsley. They will train for about three hours with their American teammates each of the first four days. Then they'll represent their nation against athletes from more than 20 other countries in the Youth Friendship Games.

"I'm trying to get to see what other sports are like in the world, to see how their experiences are in the sport and compare them to mine," Richardson said.

Richardson aspires to swim in college and the Olympics. She wants to observe how international swimmers train, and learn their techniques.

But the program is about more than sports. It also is geared toward providing opportunities for sports ambassadors to broaden their worldview.

Every athlete will get a taste of Holland's culture on a cruise through the canals of Amsterdam and a bicycle tour in the northern towns of Edam and Volendam. They will visit cheese and wooden shoe factories to see how the Dutch staples are made and learn the basketball-like sport of korfbal, which originated in the Netherlands.

Richardson read "The Diary of Anne Frank" last year for an eighth-grade English assignment and will get a chance to visit Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam.

Richardson's parents, Daryl and Gina Richardson, said American children need international exposure to greater appreciate what they have at home.

"A lot of the times they take it for granted living in the U.S.," Gina Richardson said.

Jeff Geldien said the common U.S. philosophy is "our way is the only way."

But he thinks the People to People programs, through their sporting events, cultural activities and team building exercises, will help the younger generation get along better.

"More now than ever we need to experience what other people's lives are like," Geldien said.


Contact D.L. Wise at 373-7080 or dwise@news-record.com

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