My Peter Pan Lifestyle - Pt 2
My last act as a Swarthmore student was having my final art project evaluated by my Foundations of Drawing professor. I was a cliché -- a 5th year student-athlete who took art in her final semester. And pass-failed it. Judgements aside, for this project, we were instructed to construct a scene inside of a cardboard box. The assignment was meant to be a culmination of all of the basic lessons we had learned in the semester from lighting to foreshortening to seeing things as they really were in front of us rather than just our idea of them.
My box was split into two sides. One side had a clock on the wall and had no light at all. It depicted a huddle of minimalist figures. Walking away from that enclosed circle was a separated figure, on the outside now and alone, physically disappearing, like their body was really falling away. The figure was heading off into the distance to a graveyard of sorts, comprised of a bunch of similarly half-disappeared figures. These zombie-ish characters had their arms reached out as if to wrangle in their new addition.
I did not come to Sweden until the middle of July which means there were 6 months between the official end of my time as a Swarthmore student-athlete and the beginning of this current adventure. In that time, I lived in Philly and held what amounted to three part-time jobs. I interned at a medical history museum in the city, had a research fellowship at Swarthmore, and yes, believe it or not, worked as an assistant coach for the Swarthmore women’s soccer team in the spring.
Due to my being on campus for 66% of my working time, this semester felt like having one foot in and one out of the college bubble. In between recruiting trips to Las Vegas and hours in the Pennsylvania Historical Society, I had time to ponder what I wanted to do next. The desire to continue playing soccer in some capacity was always the tentative Plan A in my head. Though I often shoved it to the back in place of answers like “grad school for history” (serious) or “work at Wawa” (joking...or serious in the mind’s eye of a STEM major) when people asked what was next for me.
In pursuing Plan A, I went the ill-advised, often ineffective route of not having an agent. I crafted, what I thought, was a compelling case of my own which consisted of a list of my soccer accomplishments, a few references, and a “personal statement” of sorts that described why I wanted to play abroad. I did a lot of digging to find contacts of women’s teams to whom I could reach out. I e-mailed everyone. A cursory count shows I messaged 68 teams from 7 countries. A handful bounced back, the majority (about 60) did not respond.
Many disheartening weeks later, through a friend of a friend of a friend** I soon began communicating with a team here called IK Uppsala that plays in the second division of Swedish football, the Elittaten. The manager informed me that, if that I could pay my way here** I could come for a trial for a week in May and see how things go. So, I went.
Being new to any group is hard of course. It’s even harder when you are in a foreign country, trying to prove yourself, and don’t speak the language of everyone else around you. Luckily, Swedes are incredibly kind and, though I was only there for a few days, I started to feel a bit comfortable. I could see myself actually maybe doing this, making this move. It also helped that there were a few Americans around. Two who played on the Elitatten team in Uppsala and one who played on a team nearby, called Enkopings SK, in the division below in the third tier.
Maybe it’s my affinity for the humanities or too many chemicals from Wawa food but I am a big believer in fate. Sitting in a coffee shop with the Americans that week, we talked a bit about our back stories and it was not long until I realized that I had actually met the girl (named Cheyenne) on Enkopings SK before. Many months ago, at my very first tournament recruiting as a coach, I was done for the day but decided to head to another field close by for one more half. I happened to sit next to another young assistant, a coach from a D1 school. We chatted for 5 minutes, she left.
Fast forward half a year and here I was sitting in front of her in a coffee shop in Sweden. It was Cheyenne. She had quit her job not long after that tournament to play here. Though I will not pretend like I did not do a lot of logical thinking before my ultimate decision to move, a chance circumstance like that shone a light on a particular path for me when things seemed hazy.
Playing soccer abroad, I came to realize more and more, was an opportunity that had a short shelf life, ideal for this post-grad period. My body was only going to be in this physical condition for so long. I did not have any, what I will call, “adult roots” -- that is, aside from the natural pull to be close to loved ones, no responsibility to anyone. I also honestly did not have some alluring job prospect. I was sending cover letters and resumes out on autopilot to openings that seemed aligned to my interests. As May approached, I still had heard nothing.
Considering all of this, in the end, my decision to play soccer abroad did not feel like much of a decision at all. The telling question my brain kept coming back to in late spring after my trial was, “Why wouldn’t you do this?” Though I am not traditionally an adventure-seeker, I recognized that that there was not any legitimate reason for me not to take this chance. It was going to be scary and uncomfortable but so are most next steps after college. Even if I was miserable, I could say I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, that I went for it.
A few phone calls to work out logistics and a download of Duolingo later, I was on a plane with two suitcases to Sweden to play the second half of the 2018 season with Enkopings SK. I was by myself in a foreign country, officially no longer a member of the community that I had become a part of for 4.5 years. The next phase was now. Despite being alone and terrified, I felt simultaneously emboldened and supported. Here I was entering lightness, about to embark on a cool experience, cape fastened with my own hands but also those of my teammates, coaches, friends and family who got me here and cared for me still. Here I was, in mind and physical location, on the other side of the box, separated not by a cardboard panel but by thousands of miles of ocean.
The other side of my art project box also had a clock on the wall but the space was brightly lit up by a small lamp. It shows the same huddle. Here though, that once-isolated figure stands in the middle. Rather than being half-disappeared, the figure is big and wears a cape. The other distant cluster of figures is still there, still with their arms reached out but now in a different warm and cheerful way.
** It is necessary for me to take the time and space to acknowledge the specific privileges I have without which this whole adventure would not be possible. I am from a family which had/has the critical social capital to get my name to the right people (e.g. “connections”). Also, I currently have access to the financial means necessary to support aspects of this experience I have mentioned above and will refer to in subsequent posts. Just as commitment, bravery and a love for the game are important elements of my life in Sweden so are the benefits afforded to me here by my socio-economic status.
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