Camels, Bolts boys soccer teams led by pair of foreign-exchange students | Local

When Joey von Aschwege signed up as an exchange student, he imagined breathing an abundance of air pollutants in a big place like Chicago or New York City.

Instead, the 18-year-old found himself on a plane headed for a place called Gillette.

Von Aschwege grew up in Oldenburg. He’s been living in Gillette for eight months through a foreign exchange program.

Von Aschwege had no say in where he ended up in the USA. After enrolling in the program, von Aschwege was randomly assigned to a host family.

Von Aschwege has been enrolled at Campbell County High School since September. He played his favorite role on the Camels football team this spring.

But von Aschwege doesn’t just play for the Camels. Ahead of next weekend’s regional tournament, the German exchange student leads Campbell County in points and goals scored. In 14 regular-season games, von Aschwege has 26 points (12 goals, two assists) and averages 1.7 goals per game.

Von Aschwege isn’t the only exchange student to have success on the pitch at Gillette. On the other side of town, Spain’s Jorge Suarez has established himself as one of Thunder Basin’s top scorers.

Suarez was second with the Bolts with 18 points (six goals, six assists) and went into Friday’s season finale against Sheridan.

to be assimilated

Moving to a remote town like Gillette brought a multitude of emotions for both Von Aschwege and Suarez. One of the biggest adjustments for Suarez was adjusting to his new diet.

“The food is definitely different here,” Suarez said. “In Europe we eat healthier than here. I used to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, but here they only serve meat and pasta and pizza.”

One thing that has helped both footballers adjust to life in the United States is experiencing the cultural differences together. The couple met within weeks of living in Gillette and even carved pumpkins together for Halloween.

Last month, von Aschwege and Suarez traveled together for a spring break trip to Miami, Florida.

“I’m good friends with Joey,” Suarez said. “It’s nice to have other exchange students around because you can talk to them and see how they’re doing.”

For von Aschwege, the biggest difference between Gillette and his hometown of Germany is the amount of schoolwork that is expected of him.

“The school here is definitely less demanding,” said von Aschwege.

Both von Aschwege and Suarez signed up for the study abroad program to experience something different and travel the world. Although neither of the teens had ever heard of Wyoming before moving here, they both have come to appreciate the community for what it has been able to offer them over the past few months.

What Aschwege and Suarez have enjoyed most since joining Gillette was the spring football season at their respective high schools.

“I like to play football,” said von Aschwege. “I’ve been playing since I was very young and football is pretty much the only sport I enjoy playing. I’m not a big fan of basketball or football. I enjoyed figuring out how to play with these guys as a team.”

Suarez admits football competition was much better in Europe. But he has found that playing at the Class 4A level in Wyoming is much more organized than some leagues in Spain.

“In Spain and in Europe, I think the players are better,” said Suarez. “But here it’s more professional.”

Both von Aschwege and Suarez have been learning English as a second language for years. Studying abroad has allowed them to improve their English skills while giving them important experiences of socializing in a completely different culture.

A lifetime memory

The two seniors will both return home later this month after graduating from Thunder Basin and Campbell County. Suarez plans to return to school in Spain to study journalism at his local university. Von Aschwege also plans to go back to school in Germany.

Von Aschwege and Suarez met on the field for what may be the last time Thursday for the final of two crosstown conference football games. Before kick-off, the players met in midfield to shake hands and wish each other luck.

“It’s fun to play against each other,” said Suarez. “It’s like a little friendly competition.”

Von Aschwege and the Camels beat Thunder Basin 2-0 on Thursday. Suarez left the game midway through the second half with an apparent leg injury.

Both Campbell County and Thunder Basin will compete in the Class 4A East regional tournament next weekend in Cheyenne. Von Aschwege and Suarez want to help their respective teams as much as they can before they fly home.

“Gillette has grown on me,” said von Aschwege. “Football this year was all about having fun with my friends.”

“It was the funnest football season I’ve ever had,” Suarez said.

Von Aschwege and Suarez will soon travel back to Europe and begin the next chapters of their lives. But no matter how much time passes, von Aschwege and Suarez will never forget their senior football seasons in Campbell County and Thunder Basin.

“For me everything revolves around the football season at the moment,” said von Aschwege. “I will miss my friends here. But I’ll think about that later.”

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