A booth vendor shot Jordan Slappey the question at a town fair in Buford.
“Someone stepped out in front of us and asked, ‘You’d like to be an exchange student, wouldn’t you?’ ”
Then a freshman at Jefferson High School, she answered “yes,” never thinking she’d soon be on a plane to Germany for her 10th-grade year.
But her application for the U.S. State Department scholarship program was accepted to her disbelief.
“I was a freshman at the cut off date for the minimum age. I thought I’d get my foot in the door and learn about the experience (and apply again),” Slappey said. “I was pleasantly surprised that I was accepted at my young age.”
Thus began her year abroad. Slappey joined more than a hundred American teens as exchange students in Germany, where she studied the culture as much as her coursework.
A significant part of that culture included witnessing just how great the European appreciation is for the game she plays — soccer.
“There is a lot more support from other people (who don’t play),” Slappey said. “It is the main sport, obviously. It is really cool, the equivalent of being on the football team in America.”
She continued playing soccer overseas, ultimately starting on a club team as goalkeeper, the position she took up as a JHS freshman.
From that position in Germany, she witnessed how different the game can be played.
“I got to see the German side of soccer. The rules are the same but fundamentally, they play a little bit different,” Slappey said. “They approach it with a little more respect for the game. The way it is played, it is a little bit prettier. There is more control there.”
Slappey played up with 18-24-year-old players in Munich, a city that was about 30 minutes from the Rosenheim home where she lived with a host family that included five siblings. (One of her host siblings already visited her in Jefferson, she said.)
She cherished the opportunity.
“(Soccer) introduced me to a lot of people, showed me different parts of where I lived. I travelled around, it was really fun, good for me,” she said. “It gave me another thing to do to keep my mind off of home.”
In addition to playing the sport, Slappey attended public viewings of Champions League games including her favorite pro team, FC Bayern. These viewings took place in open-air facilities, known as biergartens.
She snapped photographs of these occasions where hundreds, if not thousands of people gathered to watch soccer games broadcast live on TV.
“Oh my gosh,” Slappey said, “a thousand people in these places all over Munich, screaming fans … it was fabulous, really amazing. People are really passionate about the sport.”
Slappey returned to Jefferson in June, completely fluent in German, understanding of Italian and committed to studying Spanish at JHS. She was nominated and recently took the national Spanish exam. Her goal is to pursue a career involving international languages.
Though injured now, she can see how her time in Germany impacted her play for Jefferson High School.
“It made me a bit more aggressive,” she said. “Previously, I was afraid to knock people down. Playing there taught me a bit more about being a goal keeper and a defensive player.”