"After finishing my college soccer career, I pursued my dreams further and followed my passion to play professionally overseas. Within the first month of searching for teams, I landed a 6-month contract in the first league Switzerland for FC Neunkirch, with hopes that it would get me through the door and into various other teams throughout Europe. I actually ended up staying for two and a half years… and it wasn’t simply because of the chocolate (although that was a huge perk).
From there, I moved on to SC Braga in Portugal, playing a year in the top league there. After struggling to learn German in Switzerland—but after hard work, I’m pretty good at it now—being able to understand everyone since I already knew Portuguese was definitely an advantage.
After Portugal, I tried my luck with a team in Hungary, and now, because of various circumstances, I’m at home in sunny Florida for a few months before I head back to Europe to continue my career.
Being back in the states has given me a lot of time to reflect on the things I’ve learned in my career so far and for those of you who are looking to pursue a career overseas, I want to share them with you on a might-want-to-know, definitely-should-know, why-doesn’t-anyone-tell-us-any-of-this-before basis."
Here are ten things I’ve learned while playing abroad:
1. Fake It Until You Make It
Although your teammates and coach know that you're from the U.S. and that you may have possibly barely passed French 2 in the seventh grade, passion in the moment, laziness from your one teammate who knows English, and always those “It’s better if I don’t translate that” moments after your coach yelled at your team for ten whole minutes, might keep you a little out of the loop.
At practice I learned to never be the first in line, always look the coach in the eyes even though you don’t have a clue what he or she is saying, and try your best to smile when you can (unless you're being yelled at — then don't smile, that is NOT a good idea).
So, until you finish your German B2 Intensive Course Class, fake it until you make it.
- Be Prepared to Answer Questions…Any and All Different Kinds
Although you might claim to have different roots, your accent will give you away all the time — you are the “American on the team”. To hold that responsibility and prestigious honor, you have to get used to the questions targeted at you, simply because you may be that person’s only source to ask everything they've ever wondered about the U.S.A.
From “Do you eat McDonald’s, like, all the time?” to “Do you really have yellow school buses?”, the questions can get pretty repetitive so you will develop your automatic answers, but sometimes, you might be thrown a curve ball, so stay on your toes and don't be offended too easily.
- NEWSFLASH: Not Everyone Respects Women’s Soccer (“football”)
“So..You play soccer? For…Your Job? And….You can make money— like real money?”
Be prepared to stay strong in your identity. You are a professional soccer player and you've worked your butt off to get to this point. Just know, that not many people might understand why or how you do what you do. Treat them with respect, it’s not their fault they're blind to your greatness.
Also, start practicing now to say “football” instead of soccer, at least, that’s what it’s called in the rest of the world. You avoid all those awkward explanations ahead of time and can thank me later.
- You’ll make some of the best friends for life
Although you may come different countries and cultures, speak different languages, and have grown up in opposite parts of the world, you WILL find a way to communicate with one another and build relationships on and off the field.
After you get past the basic questions, hand signals, and Google Translate in your first few conversations, you might actually be surprised and connect really well with one another. If you speak their language or not, one thing is for sure — you'll meet some of your best friends and stay in touch for a lot longer than your season’s contract.
- You’ll always be on the lookout for Wi-Fi
Unless you have an international plan, your never-ending hunt for Wi-Fi will affect even your most trivial of decisions — where you go out to eat, where you sit in relation to a router, even who your best friend is if they share their hotspot.
Either way, that Wi-Fi is your lifeline to the world and back home.
- Call home, more than once a week
You might be having the time of your life, but don’t forget about your loved ones back home. Playing abroad has taught me to try my best to keep the connections and relationships I have back home. Just because you don't see them, your loved ones are still close at heart.
- Be open to cultures, food, and languages
Although you might not have a knack for languages, make an effort, even if they laugh at you, to try and learn about your teammates’ cultures or about the place you're now living in. If you openly are making an effort, they'll see and appreciate it! Even if you know chances of you ever using Slovakian ever again are slim to none, Chceš kávu and Som hladna ako vlk are pretty fun to say and are great conversation starters! (translation: Do you want coffee and I am hungry like a wolf—actual sentences I learned from my Slovakian roommates).
- The Ref WILL understand you
You might think the referee has no idea what you're saying as you're muttering colorful curse words under your breath that may or may not be directed at them, but they know. Oh, they know.
- Travel When You Can
Even if you don't get very many weekends off, take the opportunity when you have it! If Coach has given you over 24 hours off, look up day trips you can take to different cities or travel destinations around you. Chances are you might be very close to a different country altogether!
These experiences won’t just bring you closer to your teammates, who will obviously go with you but will give you experiences to last a lifetime.
- Just Go With It
Sometimes you might not understand what’s going on at practice, someone might just show up and take you to an adventure without being able to communicate that you're heading to the Swiss Alps or to Lake Balaton, you might be dragged out of your bed and told to get changed because you're about to be interviewed for national television. At the end of the day, I’ve learned to treat your international career like a big adventure and just go with it — who knows where you might end up!?
Your life, soccer career included, is a journey, and you don't know where it might lead you. I have been blessed to see the world, just because I know how to play with a ball at my feet. Take advantage of every opportunity, learn from every person, language, and situation, and most of all — cherish every moment, because they will be ones that you will remember for a lifetime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adriana Rodrigues has her Bachelor‘s degree in Journalism. Although born in Florida, she has represented both Brasil and Portugal on their national teams. She played soccer in college in Florida and then has spent the past five years playing overseas in Europe where she picked up German and worked on her Spanish and Portuguese. She is a freelance writer and author.