Dribbling past a language barrier
November 25, 2008
SEOUL — Camille Pereira is 8, and her life so far is a roster of sports, including T-ball, cheerleading and soccer.
She likes soccer so much she’s enrolled in an after-school program where the coaches and players speak only Korean.
What’s more, she’s one of only three girls out of about 1,000 kids signed up at Cha Byum-geum, a soccer school in the Ichon neighborhood.
"It’s a little hard," Camille, who goes by Cami, said of understanding the nuances of directions from her coach and teammates after practice last week.
But she and her coach, Lee Sang-yoon, have worked out a system involving body language and quick directions — run! kick! hustle! They both said it’s working just fine.
Lee said Cami plays like most 8-year-olds — with a lot of passion and developing skill. He said their lack of words rarely gets in the way.
"She is a good kid," Lee said through a translator.
Philip Perez, Cami’s father, heard about the school through a South Korean friend on base. He and his wife, Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Perez, said they signed Cami up shortly after arriving in Seoul in May because on-base sports leagues don’t play year-round.
From the very beginning, the school welcomed Cami and her parents, the Perezes said. Some of Cami’s teammates say they don’t mind having a girl in their class. But calling for a pass can be hard.
"She is not passing the ball when she has to because the language does not get through," said Lee Myung-hoon, 9. "Having a girl on the team does not matter to me."
"Actually she is a better soccer player than other kids," said Kang Tae-young, 10. "She runs fast and shoots hard."
Cami said she’s picked up a few pointers she’s been able to use in on-base league games.
Her mother, assigned to U.S. 8th Army’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, said Cami also has learned differences between fouls in American-run games and on South Korean fields — where a little pushing is allowed.
Cami goes to practice twice a week, so tuition is 70,000 won, or about $50. Uniforms cost $50 each.
Lee said he thinks most of the boys treat Cami like any other teammate.
"All I want in my class is for the kids to have fun," he said.