Oluwatobi is from Houston, Texas and participated in the 2017 Korea summer program.

NSLI-Y Korea student Tobi on a soccer field

My relationship with my host family was great from the beginning. I played with my 2 younger host sisters, and I talked to my host mom frequently. However, my relationship with my host dad was a little awkward. Anytime we would run into each other, there were rushed greetings and rushed goodbyes. I am quite a shy person, and my host dad is too. We struggled to find things to connect over. It wasn't until one of our family outings that we learned about our shared love for soccer.

Soccer is one of my favorite sports. I have only been playing for about 4 years, but soccer has become a big interest of mine. After that outing, my host dad asked me if I wanted to play soccer with him; I was thrilled! It was a great way for me to get in a much needed work out (my host family fed me so much), and it was also an opportunity for my host dad and I to become closer.

One Sunday morning, I woke up at 6 am, got dressed, and headed out the door with my host dad. During the drive to the soccerfield, I started feeling more and more nervous. Was I going to be good enough? I hesitantly asked my host dad if his team was good. He laughed saying “아니, 우리 그냥 아저씨야” (No, we are just middle-aged men). My host dad made it seem as though his team was just a group of old men kicking soccer balls around. After a short car ride, we arrived to the field. As I looked out the car window, these men were nothing like I had thought. One word came to mind: ripped. I was about to faint thinking about playing with some of them. They all looked really good, and I knew they were on a completely different level.

When I got on the field, their eyes got wide. I remember greeting them with a wave; then quickly switching to a bow. I ended up waving and bowing at the same time. I was still getting used to the Korean greetings. The whole team chuckled; smiles plastered on their faces. The men on my host dad's team were welcoming. They were funny and took care of me well making sure I knew where to go or what position to play. Anytime I made a goal or did something well, the whole field would roar with shouts of praise. I never felt like an outsider or not good enough. It felt just as comfortable as my team back home.

Another view of NSLI-Y Korea student Tobi on a soccer field

After that first day, it became tradition. Every Sunday, I would wake up at 6 am, get dressed and go play soccer rain or shine. I got a few scrapes and bruises, but I would not trade this experience for the world. Communicating on the field got easier as the weeks went by. They would yell directions or jersey numbers in Korean, and I knew exactly where I needed to be. Eventually, soccer was not the only connection I started to have with my host dad and his soccer team. As my Korean improved, we started to talk more during breaks learning more about each other’s lives. This team, my team, allowed me to see South Korea in a different way. I saw not what separated myself from the Koreans around me such as my race or language but what united us. It was not until one of the men on my dad's team told me he was thinking about hosting students next year that I understood the impact I had on my dad's team. One of the core ideologies of NSLI-Y is being an ambassador everywhere you go. I realized everywhere really meant everywhere whether on the subway, in class or in my case on the soccer field. The soccer field was not just a place where we played; it was a place where we exchanged.

This experience allowed me to become closer to my host dad. I learned more about him away from his role as a father. He helped me get comfortable around his team. Anytime I did not understand something, he would use simple Korean or repeat it to me slowly. My host dad really allowed me to play confidently and enjoy my time in Korea. Those car rides to the soccer field also became time for my host dad and I to talk about our week. We were no longer awkward at home, and I could see the relationship with my host family as a whole grow more and more. Playing soccer became my favorite part of my time abroad. 수고했습니다! (That is what we said after every game. It means you have worked hard)