People to People's Youth Friendship Games through their Sports Ambassadors program sounds like a total blast. Incoming Paly sophomore Julia E gives us the inside scoop on her international athletic experience.
Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, People to People was established in 1956 to promote peace and understanding through international conferences - not between government officials, but between individual citizens. Eisenhower famously said, "The people want peace; indeed, I believe they want peace so badly that they governments will just have to step aside and let them have it."
The Sports Ambassadors program (www.sportsambassadors.org) is fairly new; it has only been in existence since 2000. According to Julia, it shows. Athletes for the summer program are nominated by their coaches from AYSO (the recreational league of soccer); not, as the website boasts, "through a selective interview and recommendation process." Applicants did go to one interview, but "I think everyone who applied was accepted," said Julia. And when scheduled plans for the 2,000+ student athletes fell through, more often than not they went souvenir shopping. The venerated "Friendship Village," the hub of everyday activities, consisted of seven tents and several soccer fields.
One of the tents boasted Domino's and Ben and Jerry's franchises, but otherwise, "the food was really bad," said Julia, recounting their first lunch of two pieces of bread and a slice of ham. "And the drink sizes were really small. They gave us a small tumbler of soda and expected that to last the whole meal."
By the end of the week, one girl was making a list of everything she was going to eat when she got home. Top of the list? "Fudge," said Julia.
According to Julia, there were almost enough redeeming qualities to make up for substandard food and underscheduled days. A bike tour of the Dutch countryside provided beautiful scenery, while other morning cultural trips included a boat ride on Amsterdam's canals and visits to cheese and clog factories. However, some days' agendas fell short of expectations. "What are the two places Amsterdam is famous for? The Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum," said Julia. "We didn't go to either of them."
But the camp's main fault? "There was very little meaningful interaction with kids from other countries," stated Julia. "Mostly, it was American girls going up to non-American guys and going, "Hey, you're kinda cute." There was no, "Wow, what's it like to live in Brazil?"
Teams were mononational and assembled upon arrival at camp; there were US teams, Canadian teams, Saudi Arabian teams, etc. "We played a total of two international soccer matches," said Julia, "and we played four against American club teams."
The Sports Ambassadors Program participated in the Regional Haarlem Cup, which was open to club teams as well. "The club teams have been playing together for months, whereas we jest met days ago, so they had a huge advantage," said Julia.
That is not to say that no friendships were made. "We all bonded the most on the last day," said Julia, smiling ruefully. "Last summer, when I went to summer camp, I went in with one of my friends, so I didn't make very many new ones. But in Holland, all of us exchanged emails and Facebooks. One girl emailed me yesterday."
Last words? "I wish there had been more team-building with kids from difference countries." In other words, People to People is missing the "people" factor.