Stefan Gabrisch at Family First Sports Park Erie, PA/USA
From the beginning of my studies at the University for Applied Sciences in Remagen (RheinAhrCampus) I intended to do my practical semester abroad. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences in several foreign countries during exchange programs in the past. I finally wanted to stay abroad for a longer time.
I started very early with the application procedure to find an appropriate company for my internship. Since I study sports management, it of course had to be related to this field. Since I like soccer, I searched ’google.com’ with this keyword. Soon I found websites for clubs playing in the Major League Soccer (MLS), most of which offered internship opportunities. I collected a list of up to ten organizations. However, since I had only a few experiences in writing applications in English and every single application included details about the company which required a lot of research, I decided to send out just a couple of them first. In February 2004 I sent out five applications via email only and waited to see what would happen. Honestly said, nothing happened. But I sent the applications to my favourite organizations and did not want to give up, so two weeks later, I called them. I guess I was pretty lucky because the first organization I called, DC United, a soccer club from Washington playing in the MLS, set up a date for a telephone interview; the second, Family First, told me that they had read my application, found it interesting, and would discuss it with their staff. Due to the fact that I nearly had two positive responses, I did not call the remaining organizations. Two weeks later I almost had two internship opportunities. I accepted the post at Family First Sports Park.
I do not know if I was just lucky or if I had such an impressive resume... Nevertheless, I can recommend doing good company research and writing an individual application for each company one wishes to apply to.
After I knew where I would do my internship, I had enough time to apply for the scholarship program with InWent. (Want more information? Please get in contact with Sprachen/Internationales, Barbara Neukirchen) After I got a positive response from InWent for the grant which includes all travel expenses, I started with all the administrative procedures like obtaining a new passport, visa etc. The most important source of information was the internet. In my opinion it is necessary to start with the preparation as early as possible if you do not want to deal with the pressure of imminent deadlines. A whole bunch of documents and copies are required.
After I obtained form DS-2019, which is mandatory for the J1-visa, I made an appointment with the US embassy in Frankfurt. At the beginning of January I had the interview. I was only asked a few questions, but I had to wait for two hours before it was my turn. Two weeks later I got the visa by mail.
Since Family First had confirmed my internship, I had been in contact with them. I regularly informed them about the process of the administration and my exams, just to show them that I was very interested in coming to the sports park. It is to be taken for granted that one should inform oneself about the intended host country, by watching TV or reading the newspaper for example.
During my last days in Germany I prepared everything to find an interim tenant for my appartment at home and arranged that I would not run out of money.
Departure and arrival in the U.S.A.:
The weekend before I left, I gave a party to say good-bye to all of my friends. I decorated the room with the American flag and set our door bell on the American anthem. We had a lot of burgers the whole night. I got various survival kits as presents. So I was well prepared for my trip to the United States.
When I arrived safely in Atlanta, my friend from Germany was already waiting for me. The first four days I planned vacations at Berry College in Rome, approximately an hour and a half from Atlanta, because my friend attends this College. On the first evening I met his roommates and some of his friends. All of them were very nice and we had a lot of fun before I finally went to bed and fell asleep.
On my way to Erie a couple of days later everything was perfect. I had an impressive view from the plane. The whole landscape was covered with snow and on Lake Erie there seemed to be huge ice floes. You could only see fields and forrests, no skyscrapers and huge cities.
However, the first days in Atlanta were wonderful. Many nice memories of former journeys to the United States came to my mind, when I saw the streets, buildings, and the landscape again. Although it was still February, the weather was excellent. It was about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 21 degrees Celsius), but the sun seems to shine more intensively. I wore shorts and t-shirts for breakfast outside in the sun. I really enjoyed the days in Atlanta. It was a good time to have a rest and to get used to the time shift before starting my internship.
The day I arrived in Erie I was picked up by Brian. The difference between Atlanta and Erie was the following: it was only 30 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. -1 degree Celsius), and there were eight inches (20 centimeter) of snow. This did not pose a problem, though.
On our way to Family First we made an extra loop through downtown where Brian showed me some important or interesting places. That was very nice and gave me the feeling that he was very interested in giving me a good time in Erie. When we arrived at the sports park, he showed me the site. Due to the masses of snow most fields where covered and I could not see the whole property. It took only ten minutes to go back to their house. Although it was pretty close, approximately five miles, it was in the middle of nowhere. It was very remote and quiet. There were endless streets and fields. The rest of the day passed quickly. I got to know the other sister, the father, the two cats, and the dog. They were all very friendly and made my settling in as easy as possible. We talked a lot on the first day. They made me feel at home at once. Sometimes they exaggerated a little bit, when they asked me if I felt comfortable or if I needed anything for the hundredth time. They showed me where to find everything and asked me to help myself. The first weeks I met a lot of new people, either with my host family or at my work place. Every person I met was very open-minded and interested in my intention to visit the United States. Many people were just prepared for some small talk. I wonder if it is specific to this area that many people have somehow a relative who has spent some years in Germany. Many people were proud to speak at least a couple of German words.
Description of responsibility:
Generally said it is difficult to set any phases of the training program due to the number of events hosted by the soccer department. Everything is very customer oriented which is very good for my communication skills. During the first weeks I got a general overview about Family First Sports Park and its
departments and events.. I helped to update brochures, prepare mailings, and administer the data bases. All this helped me to learn more about the soccer departments and after two weeks I felt comfortable about answering the phone and helping with the customers’ needs. Usually these are questions about the summer program, i. e. camps and outdoor leagues. So far I have not worked on a project of my own. With regard to the camps and soccer academy I have to manage everything which involves a registration, i. e. complete data bases, receive payment, and make sure that people pay their outstanding balance.
It is difficult to name any specifics I have learned. The club system in the United States compared to the system in Germany works totally different, so there were a lot of new impressions I could gain. It is just a great experience to see how such a big sports complex is organized. Sometimes I have to work on game days, where I am the only person on duty. That includes that I have to deal with the incoming teams and anything that might occur. I have to decide what happens if it rains or what happens if a referee does not show up. I have to take action if a player is injured and take care that everything runs smoothly.
As it is intended that I will be in charge of the outdoor league called ‚Bundesliga’ during this summer, I have started to prepare a manual and policy guide, so that future interns can easily find advice and procedures.
After the first month I started to practice with the ’Lil’ Kickers’. This task of course included preparation, where I had to deal with the characteristics of this age group, and helped me to improve my communication skills considerably.
Contact with colleagues and impressions of workplace:
The soccer department is a very small department. Altogether there are six of us. The soccer department is in an indoor facility next to two indoor soccer fields, two basketball courts, and a fitness center. I thought it would be more separated but only a few walls were set up which comprise the soccer department. Although it is noisy during the indoor season, as there is practice from 4.30 PM on both fields, it is a good way to stay close to the client and keep contact with the public.
My colleagues are almost the same age as I am. They always pick me up at my host family or give me a ride home if I need one. They do their best to make my internship as comfortable as possible. They prepared a friendly welcome during the first days. The affiliated soccer club ’Erie Admirals’ has about 20 teams with coaches who stop by at the soccer department regularly.
All of my colleagues wear soccer gear. The working hours are quite flexible. They go out for lunch every day, and if there is a Champions League game of one of my colleagues’ favourite teams on TV, they set up a meeting in one of the local bars and watch TV while discussing the agenda.
They can also use the fitness centre during working hours. All in all I would describe the whole atmosphere as very relaxed and friendly.
As already mentioned I have started my time in the United States with a four day vacation at Berry College in Rome near Atlanta. Berry College is huge and not comparable with German universities. Not with regard to the number of students but with the dimension of the campus. You would be lost without a car. Additionally, there is also a campus life. Most students have to live on campus during their freshman year. Of course I met a lot of students and had many conversations. The most impressive was a boy who did not want to kiss his girlfriend before marriage. I also went to a students’ party and the movie theatre.
After my four days vacation my cultural activities went on. Living in a host family is one of the best experiences you can get. You learn a lot about family life in the United States. I guess it is difficult to generalize because every family has its own cultural background. The family took me to friends and to parties. These all are activities to gain an insight of the American way of living. If I failed to stay in a host family I would not know what it is like to celebrate Easter in the United States. I can also recommend to go to church. Some things are just different. If you feel uncomfortable watch what other people are doing and try to imitate them.
Actually Family First is a cultural working place. Including the coaches I have colleagues from Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Bosnia, and Sweden.
I sometimes spend my leisure time with my colleagues. We went to a hockey game of the Otters, which was quite interesting, and we played pool in one of the local bars. Once we played party poker the whole night till 6 AM.
I also made a road trip with my friend from Philadelphia in his millennium yellow Corvette. Arriving in Memphis, we attended a tour of Graceland to experience the true spirit of Elvis, the king of Rock and Roll. Believe it or not: Elvis is still alive! In the evening we went to a casino where we tried to challenge our fortune. On Saturday it was planned to drive to Lynchburg to the Jack Daniels distillery, but as we had not enough time we went to Nashville instead, where we spent the evening in a bar with live country music. On the last day my friend dropped me off in Morgantown, West Virginia, so that I could take the Greyhound bus to Erie, while he was driving the whole way back to Philadelphia. During the whole trip we drove about 1600 miles, crossed six states, and experienced the most legendary icons of American culture.
I think it is difficult to assess one’s own language progress. It took some days ’be in the language’ again. I often ask for words which might be important for the ongoing conversation but in general I understand most of it. I read English books, and as long as I lived with my host families I tried to read the news every day. Additionally, watching TV helps to enhance my listening skills.
Although I had to show my German passport to a girl, because she did not believe me that I am from Germany, my accent is still recognizable. You probably get never rid off it.
I absolutely expanded my word pool by playing soccer or practicing with the “Lil’ Kickers“. This was a completely new word field.
With regard to the costs I have chosen a very inexpensive internship. It might be difficult to compare and to generalize it with other stays. I do not have to pay any rent for accommodation and could live with my two host families for free. This saved a lot of money. Although my colleagues go out for lunch every day, I usually pack a lunch bag and barely join them. I often was invited by my host families or colleagues. During the first three months I only spent 300 USD. This included several meals, some things I had to buy here, because I did not bring them from Germany, and even my road trip. If you go out for lunch to one of the fast food chains you can expect to pay about $5 to $8.
First of all I want to thank InWent and CDS international for their support. They were a great help with the preparation of this internship.
I went to High School and to College for a couple of weeks on former stays. Now I can even say that I have worked in the United States. The days passed very quickly, I enjoyed every single day.