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by Lee Mook

“There are two surefire things that unite people: war and sports. We come from all over the world–China, Korea, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Japan, and the US–but out there we will play as one team, and we will win.” My Chinese soccer coach’s rousing speech was met by a roar of excitement from all my teammates and me.

We stood on the “battlefield” (Beijing 80’s soccer field) with the wind whipping at our legs, prepared to face our opponents. Our team had been put together three days earlier, and we were to play our school’s rival in a friendly game of soccer. Although we had never practiced together as an official team, we had all spent various lunch periods, breaks between class, and afternoons playing pick-up soccer together.

Our team playing together for the first time.

The other team had practiced. A lot. The whistle blew and within 15 seconds (and a couple of bobbles by our defense) the ball landed right in front of our goal, and was promptly rocketed into said goal by the other team’s giant 6’6’’ German striker.  We all caught our breath at that point, having never considered the possibility of being on the losing end of a blowout. However, we woke up and found our intensity, and as a defensive mid-fielder I ran the length of the field countless times fighting to get that goal back.

Finally, in the middle of the second half the tide changed. After fighting tooth and nail to keep the ball out of the our half of the field for a large portion of the game, the ball landed at my feet around midfield, I launched the ball up the field to our striker, who proceeded to beat every single defender they had, ultimately placing the ball in the bottom left corner of the goal.

The crowd erupted, and I, ecstatic about our goal, felt the weariness drain out from my legs, replenished and strong, ready to win this game.

We held the ball in their half of the field for the rest of the game, pressuring them at every turn. Then, in the last few moments of the game we had a corner kick, most likely the last chance to score and break the 1 – 1 tie. The ball floated through the air, and as I circled around to the back goal-post I saw the ball coming towards me, time slowed down as I sprung up into the air, my mind screaming “this is it! This is it!” The ball made a whooshing sound, flying past me just inches from my head, as if to taunt me. The whistle blew, marking the end of the game. My teammates patted me on the back, an unspoken understanding in all our eyes: the only thing to do is work harder to jump a few extra inches higher next time.

China, gap year, Global Gap Year
The team after our first game.


The game ended in a tie. After shaking hands and taking a group photo, our team crowded in to a meeting room. My teammates were howling and dancing around, adrenaline still pumping and excitement from a real competition glowing on their faces.  I looked around the long, dark mahogany table we were sitting at, and as my teammates cheered and laughed, I realized that all but a few of my best friends here in China were in the room with me.

In fact, soccer is the largest social activity I have here in China. It may have been cliché but my coach’s quote completely described my situation here in China. I have used sports more than any other of my clubs to find and make friends. Looking forward, I am excited to discover sports clubs at UNC to become an active member in–possibly–UNC boxing and ballroom dance. I am confident that in whichever clubs I involve myself with I will make long-lasting friendships similar to those I have forged here in China.

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