It’s Friday afternoon at Cal State East Bay, and a group of students has gathered at Pioneer Stadium, as they do every week, for a soccer meet up sponsored by the university’s American Language Program.
One of these participants is 19-year-old Bernard Elendu, an international student from Nigeria pursuing a degree in health sciences. As Elendu finishes lacing up his cleats, he glances up at one of the players on the field and motions that he’s ready to join in. The player signals to Elendu in return — an unspoken language between teammates — and he seamlessly joins the game.
“It’s fun to come and join them and feel part of the group,” Elendu says. “It also helps me connect with other people and learn about what else is going on around campus. Everyone shares what they know with the group.”
At first glance, this soccer match may look like any other average pickup game you’d find on a college campus. However, this group is a unique blend of international and domestic students, most of whom had never met before joining the ALP-sponsored soccer group.
The soccer group allows international students to improve their English by interacting with both native and non-native English speakers, and domestic students also get to learn about other cultures and languages.
On a typical Friday afternoon, there could be anywhere from 10 to 25 players on the field, but it wasn’t always like that. The group’s founder, Abdulrahman Aldayel, recalls coming to the field alone or with just a few other players before the group started gaining momentum.
Aldayel is from Saudi Arabia and after completing the Intensive English Program within ALP, which offers diploma, certificate and graduate preparation programs, was able to raise his language proficiency so that he could matriculate to Cal State East Bay. He is now studying industrial engineering.
Dylan Santiago, 20, who first learned about the group through friends in his fraternity on campus, is one of the domestic students who has become an avid fan of the weekly gatherings.
“My friends saw people playing soccer on the field Friday afternoons and they told me about it,” says Santiago, a California native and U.S. history major. “I remember the first time showing up and hoping I could play even though I didn’t know anyone.
“I enjoy meeting people and learning about different cultures,” he adds. “I’ll ask people how to say certain words in a different language.” For instance, his teammates have grown used to hearing Santiago shout sugoi (“great” or “amazing” in Japanese) whenever someone makes a great goal.
“I’ve met a lot of great people,” Santiago says. “Soccer is a beautiful language that everyone understands.”
The ALP-sponsored soccer group meets regularly on Fridays from 3-5 p.m. at Pioneer Stadium and Sunday afternoons. For more information on Cal State East Bay’s American Language Program, visit the program’s website.