Through Tovo Academy, a residency program for improving in soccer and Spanish, sophomore Sandor Pelle traveled to Sitges, Spain for three months, returning on Dec. 17. In Sacramento, Pelle plays for the Sacramento Republic U16/U17 team.
Q: Had you been to Spain before? Was it for soccer?
A: Yeah, I first went to Spain when I was 5 years old. It was just for a family vacation. In April I was here doing the same (Spanish immersion program) but only for two weeks, so it wasn’t really a residency.
Q: How did you get this opportunity?
A: In April, I knew I wanted to do the two-week (Spanish immersion program). So that’s (how) I discovered (Todo Academy). After that, I went home. I visited the founder of this program over the summer, and he talked me into doing this residency.
I did have to apply for the residency, but the founder already knew me, so it was easier.
Q: How is soccer different in Spain?
A: The biggest difference I (have) noticed (is) that some of the best players don’t even look like soccer players. In America, everything is about the athlete, but some of the best players in Spain aren’t the biggest, the fastest or the strongest. (The best) have the (most) intelligence and know how to play the game. That’s why they’re some of the best.
Q: Was there any culture shock when you first arrived?
A: No, not really. I speak the language, so that was a big help. And there were people (in the program) that helped with that to make sure it wasn’t like “Oh, whoa, what am I doing?”
Q: What was the program like?
A: There was me and nine other kids. In the morning there was training within us 10, and then in the afternoon I trained with a local club called UE (Unió Esportiva) Sitges.
Q: Did you meet the nine other kids in your program before you went to Spain?
A: I knew one of them before. She was in the same (program as I was) in April.
Q: What was your daily schedule like?
A: First, we woke up and had breakfast. Then I had training. After that, I had Spanish class for two hours. Then lunch. We (then) had study time, (where) I did all my homework from Country Day. And then I trained in the evening. After that (we) came back, ate dinner and went to bed. Sometimes I (managed to take a) nap.
Q: You were near Barcelona, the center of the Catalonian independence movement. Were you affected by the movement?
A: Yeah, we were there in the heart of it. When it was really going on, even in the little town outside of Barcelona there were riots. So some days we were confined to the house, and other days we couldn’t go to Barcelona. (We normally went to) Barcelona for sightseeing or to watch (soccer) games.
But basically everyone here knew when the riots were going to happen, so we were never caught in one. We just had to stay home and be careful where we went in Barcelona or in (Sitges).
(During the riots) we couldn’t go to Plaza Catalunya or any places in Barcelona. We couldn’t even go into the center of our town.
Q: Did the Catalonian independence movement influence any of your opinions?
A: Not really because everyone knew it was going to happen before it happened. So I was kind of expecting it.
I still love Spain. Whether I’m living currently in Catalonia or in Spain, I love it either way. Of course, all the kids on my (local) teams were (for independence), saying “¡Viva Catalonia!” I had my little Catalonian flag bracelet, and I always talked about it with them just because it was fun. And there are also two other sections of Spain trying to secede, so while Spain may seem (to be) in disarray, I still love it.
Q: How do you get your schoolwork done?
A: Well, I didn’t get all of it done. That was kind of impossible. But I did as much as I could. I emailed my teachers a lot, and I had an adviser and proctor (in Spain). She made sure the kids were on top of it, and teachers could send tests to her and she’d proctor them for us. It was a lot of emailing, CavNet, printing out stuff (and) scanning stuff back.
Q: How did you like your experience?
A: Whether I’ve become a better student (or) worse student, better soccer player (or) worse soccer player, I think it, overall, was a good experience.
The experience of living in a different country and being with different people and making these connections is a valuable thing to have, even if I suddenly become (worse) at soccer.
Q: What was most difficult?
A: Doing schoolwork was the hardest part. Doing Country Day (work) at Country Day is hard enough, but doing Country Day (work) halfway across the world is a lot harder.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: It depends. I think so. I couldn’t do another three months back-to-back, and, of course, I would miss family and friends even more than I already have.
I wouldn’t have a problem with my team at home, (though), because I’m getting better at soccer; that’s kind of the whole point.
Q: What are you missing now that you’re back home?
A: Everything: where I was living, the people I made connections with (and) the lifestyle I had. Everything.
—By Larkin Barnard-Bahn