SEBASTIAN MANTELLO – Schweinfurt, Germany
Schweinfurt, Germany- August 2007-August 2008
CLUB: FC Schweinfurt 05
Sebastian Mantello in his first match for FC Schweinfurt 05 of the Bavarian Bayernliga U19s
I returned home after being away a year in Schweinfurt Germany. It was the most brilliant experience of my life to date, a time where I experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. The experience away from home was a time for me to grow up and find a way to live and pursue my dream.
Meeting the Schmitts
I arrived at Nurnberg airport on 13 August. My host father Marcus, is a coach at the Schweinfurt Soccer Club. He picked us up at the airport. His first words to us was “yah he’s the right height!”. He came across as a warm and really fun guy and I immediately felt comfortable with him. He told me he coached at the club and that he would be doing some sessions with me to see what I was like before he took me to the club. He made my parents feel very welcome and when we got to the house his wife Susi and son Marcel were equally nice.
It felt really strange to leave my folks and move into a house with strangers, but it was the best thing to do it straight away. I was very lucky to live with the Schmitt family who gave me the third level to myself, I had my own bedroom, bathroom, small gym and sauna room on my floor. I watched TV when I worked out, and essentially loved my space.
The first few days, Susi, Markus and my parents sorted out all the paperwork for my school, my visa for a one year stay and my player pass for the club. I went for some indoor sessions with Markus who determined I was capable to try out for the Under 19’s Schweinfurt team who were playing in the Bayernliga.
Mantello happy after his first German match.
Meeting the Team
Within the first 2 weeks we went to Munich to a Sportschule, a great complex with excellent sporting facilities for the best athletes in the region. After the weekend away with the team, it I was told I could join the Under 19s. It was clear that I had a lot of work to do, but I was thrilled to be in it. My coaches were Michael and Wolfgang. With Markus the Goalkeeper coach. I did not have a single word of German and was unsure how I would fit in with it all. I was really nervous and tried to keep up with everything. But the style of game and the environment was so different, I was a bit in awe of everything at first. The players especially those who could speak English were very helpful, but it was difficult for them to keep translating and follow instructions. I became adept at just following and trying to work out what was going on.
Parting from my parents was I think worse for them, as I was fired up for my new life. It was the first time ever I was on my own in a new and foreign place and having to rely on my host family who I had never met before.
Going to School
Well I can tell you I was not looking forward to school. It would have been perfect if I did not have to study for a year, but that was not to be. It turned out to be one of the best times I also had, making friends with the kids my age was really cool. It was good to have friends outside soccer, but mind you EVERYONE (that I knew of) played soccer. I have made some fabulous friends who I know I will be in touch with for the rest of my life. While I was supposed to learn German, everyone wanted to practice their English, so it took me quite some time to actually start speaking. I was in German classes with the grade 5s which was hilarious, so I had buddies from 11 years old to 19. Everywhere I went in the school I was known as the Australian and it was fun.
After the first flush of excitement and difference, which lasts about 1 month, the reality started to kick in along with the advent of winter. Man I have never been so cold in my whole life. Coming from Australia where in Melbourne we can get some pretty cold 11 degrees Celsius average winter days, minus something in Germany was bloody awful!!
I learned the bus routes to school and into the city and I had my host family and friends who also transported me around.
FC Schweinfurt celebrates Sebastian’s first goal in Germany!
The Soccer Team
I soon realized that I had to earn my spot in the squad, which was a really hard thing to do at 15 going on 16 while most of the other boys were older, stronger, better and tougher. Sitting on the bench for almost the whole games was soul destroying but I was determined to creep up the playing rung. The team was in the middle of the table and the coached really had little flexibility in giving me much field time, so it was probably the most difficult time.
We trained three times a week on the most wonderful grounds. Schweinfurt has 8 or 9 soccer pitches plus a stadium that would fit around 30,000 people I think. My parents and soccer friends in Australia were great support and kept encouraging me to keep going, despite the tough German competition. Markus tried to push me for coordination, fitness and so forth.
When the winter break came, I had more free time in the afternoons, which gave me more time to be homesick. After a challenging 1st half of the season, I was yearning for home, but my host family was very supportive and I knew I had to go back into the 2nd half of the season with a different attitude. During the winter break I elected to drop down to the Under 17s and worked my way into the first 11.
With a positive perspective, the next six months were the best ever. Our team ended up third on the ladder. Our Club has become a licensed academy for the best youth in North Bavaria and I had a chance to play in the Under 19s the following year but my time was up and I had to return home to finish my final years of school. My friendships were the best with great girls and guys and I had a chance to trial with a great Bundesliga Club, Hamburger SV and played with the northern Bavarian regional team.
I have seen places I only dreamed about. My host family was absolutely wonderful. My host father took me to two great Bundesliga games, I saw Schalke and Bayern Muncih in the VIP lounges of the best stadiums. I went with them and the School Exchange to Berlin on a couple of occasions and traveled all over Bavaria with my soccer team. It’s hard to return home and get back into the swing of things.
I recommend the year long experience if you have the tenacity to stick it out. I certainly did not want to return home, especially with the opportunity to play in the Under19s in a higher league. I have formed great attachments to my host family, my school friends and soccer mates. I speak German and am studying it for my final year at school.
The program through IFX was fantastic. The preparation was great in the information they provide. After returning home, I felt so homesick for Germany for a couple of months but got stuck into school and have little time to think of much else. I am finding it hard also to get back into soccer here after the German experience, but am waiting for the pre-season and then will have a good go at it.
Thanks Mike and team from IFX (hope to get back in the program, once I finish school), thanks to Wendy and the AYUSA team and most of all thanks to the people who made my stay in Germany the most memorable of my life so far.
Excerpt from Rick Steve’s Travel Site:
Football/School Exchange Program. My son plays soccer and wanted to play in Europe so i googled and eventually found IFX. He went when he was 15 and is there now and has nearly completed a year. He did not know a word of German and is speaking quite fluently after 8 months. Michael the President organises everything and my son has had the experience of his life. His fees were half the price of others and I highly recommend the organisation and the experience.
Mel, Vic Australia 04/06/2008