Soccer helps bond international students

By Jay Logan Rogers

Many Americans are apathetic about the 2006 World Cup now being played in Germany, but for most international students, it’s a big deal.

“We’ve noticed it’s big. A lot of students have been wearing soccer apparel recently,” said Mark Johnson, a student adviser for the International Center. “There’s definitely a bond there. It gives them something to talk about and a little taste of home.”

Students often gather in the Union’s Crimson Lounge to watch World Cup matches. On Wednesday, more than 20 people crowded around the television to watch a game between Germany and Poland. One fan was Hannwelm Steinebach, a German at the U this summer researching his graduate thesis in engineering.

“If you’re watching a national game, you can easily identify yourself with your team,” Steinebach said. “During the World Cup is really the only time you see flags displayed in Germany.”

Steinebach said he thought the World Cup did more to increase bonds of friendship among students than to create rivalries.

Nian Xiao, a graduate student in mechanical engineering from China, also watches matches at the Union.

“China does not have a team in the World Cup, but soccer is the most popular game in China, and I just enjoy the games,” Xiao said.

International students love watching soccer, but they also enjoy playing it. A small group of international students from countries such as India, Vietnam, France and Germany meet every Saturday to play soccer on the field next to the HPER complex.

“In Vietnam, it was more difficult to find an open field than to find players. Here, there are plenty of fields, but not enough players,” said Ha Pham, a graduate student in computer science.

“I like soccer because it’s a cheap sport,” said Dinh Trung, a graduate student in mathematics from Vietnam. “You can play anywhere, because all you need is a ball.”

Some of the students said they were puzzled that soccer was not more popular in the United States.

“People should know it’s not just people running around. There’s a lot of organization,” Xiao said. “It’s also a team game that’s not as focused on individual stars.”

Sandeep Negi, a graduate student in electrical engineering from India, said, “It’s just a good game for fun, health, and as an outdoor activity.”

U students and others react to a USA goal that was later taken away by a referee during the World Cup match between USA and Italy on Saturday. During the World Cup, areas around campus such as the Crimson Commons in the Union Building serve as places where students can cheer on their favorite teams.