Feb. 8, 2006
By Colette Swensen
Seminole Soccer Midfielder
So, imagine you’re an athlete. You have come straight out of Tokyo, Japan and into the ever so steamy month of April in Tallahassee. You arrive in a country where you knew none of the native tongue, none of the terrain, and not one single person for thousands of miles. You knew America would be a whole other world, and you had a growing fear that you would lose the person you were and your culture. Stepping off the airplane, at our ever so crowded Tallahassee airport, you knew two things; basic English phrases such as: hi, bye, please, thank you, and that Johnny Depp is your favorite actor, and he’s in America, so why not make the trip over?
Welcome to the world of 19 year old Mami Yamaguchi, starting left midfielder for Florida State women’s soccer. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, our gift from the east is a member of the U-20 Japanese National Team and a member of the top club team in Japan, Belez.
She arrived in Tallahassee last April and it is now February. What she would face in those months to come would be a daunting task for any young student athlete, but not for Mami. She dealt with many cultural, social, and academic boundaries, all the while holding herself with a graceful poise and a contagious smile that radiated to her teammates. Mami passed and completed her first semester at FSU, excelling above and beyond in many of her courses. Her day consistently started at 7am and ended at 9pm as study hall proctors kicked her out. This “Groundhog’s Day” academic schedule, loaded with a season full of competition would have made anyone else fall flat on their face. This hard working Japanese girl kept her daily schedule intact. Any campus onlookers could see Mami peddling her beach cruiser bike around Stadium Drive, balancing a handle bar in one hand, and her Starbuck’s Vanilla Latte in the other.
On her Christmas vacation, Mami embarked on quite an excursion, trading in rural Tallahassee, for the city life of South Florida. When asked about the hustle and bustle of south Florida lifestyle, Yamaguchi said, “this is nothing compared to the craziness of Tokyo.” As Mami went on to explain the tight architectural spacing, the over crowded apartments, and the rampant availability of karaoke bars.
Mami absorbed all the sights and sounds South Florida had to offer, adoring the beauty of the Ft.Lauderdale/Hollywood Beach, and relishing every opportunity to shop at the ever famous, Sawgrass Mills Mall. When present in a more southwestern location, Davie, Florida, Yamaguchi found it strange to see people riding horses on the side of the street. That’s just Davie for you though, a cowboy town in its own right.
With one semester down and one more to go in her freshman year, this Asian superstar has faced and conquered many of the boundaries placed in front of her. Daily improvement on her English vocabulary is a favorite pastime for Mami, building from simply, “hi” and “bye” to such words as “disadvantage” and “perimeter”. Yamaguchi is a sponge, absorbing all the American culture she comes in contact with and appreciating all our country has to offer. She can not wait to tackle the next task of receiving a driver’s license, a task that hopefully will be accomplished in the future.
There is something very admirable about all the international athlete’s that come to universities across America to learn and compete with the best we have to offer. From the first day that I met Mami, I saw this spark and drive in her to make it on her own and to take a risk for developing the person she will be molded into after her four years here. If not for her drive and hard work I doubt Mami would have picked up the English language as fast as she did. For people on the soccer team, Mami puts things into perspective.
When you walk into the locker room and think you have had a long day, you look to number 20’s locker and see her hustling from class to put her cleats on so she can go out and do extra ball training. It is this kind of drive that made everyone work a little hard, and complain a little less. Yamaguchi has unknowingly taught many of her teammate’s things they otherwise wouldn’t get to experience. We help her grow with her English and she helps us grow in life. Traveling such distance is a daunting task to undertake considering many incoming freshman in our own country have difficulty dealing with their first year out of the house. It is commendable for such a brave young lady to take a chance and leave a language and culture that is comfortable, and explore the world in order to better herself and make herself a stronger person. But, it’s just another day in the life of soccer star Mami Yamaguchi.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Colette Swensen has been a member of the FSU soccer program for the last three years. She spent the last year as Yamaguchi’s guide to everything American. This story was Colette’s take on how Mami has adjusted to life in America.