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New Friends from Far, Far Away

Last month’s World Cup showed that countries can be united through the beautiful game, but sometimes it’s hard to grasp what that means on an individual scale. on july 23, the kids at uI’s GUNSaulus academy summer camp got to experience soccer’s gLOBal scoPE thanks to a visit from a group of iraqi high schoolers who were in Chicago through the iraqi youth leaders exchange Program (iYlep).

IYLEP’s goal is to enables Iraqi high school students to develop leadership skills and build action plans to strengthen the future of Iraq. Participants spend a month in the US, traveling through different cities and interacting with local communities through nonprofits and civic organizations.

When the big kids from IYLEP arrived, UI’s campers didn’t waste any time with handshakes. Instead, they welcomed their guests with hugs and requests for piggy back rides. After a short introduction, the two groups got to know each other through a quick round of lunchtime Q & A. Both sides agreed they had way too much homework and that sandwiches were the best and easiest kind of lunch. The Iraqi youth were all very surprised by how cheesy deep-dish pizza is, and they were excited about exploring Chicago and riding the L. UI’s campers had lots of recommendations for food to sample while in the US – tacos, Chicago-style hot dogs, and apples (yes, apples) – and offered a short list of the best museums to visit (the Museum of Science and Industry is not be missed).


After lunch, it was time to play! Small teams of elementary and high school students played foxtails, double Dutch, and parachute Olympics. After each group rotated through the game stations, Coach Paul divided the play area into four mini fields, and the students participated in a small-sided soccer tournament. A few players lit up the field with some fancy footwork and quick passing, and the visitors were surprised by the campers’ energy. The day wound down with high fives and a group picture, and the campers and their new friends said their goodbyes.

A big thank you goes out to the awesome IYLEP participants and to Coach Matt for connecting us with such a fantastic program. Come back next summer!

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