DAY IN THE LIFE: Freshman exchange student pursues passion for soccer in the U.S.


Gabrielle Caumon / Hilltop Views

Freshman center midfielder Shunji Watanabe balances a soccer ball on his foot during the club team’s evening practice.

Shunji Watanabe is a 19-year-old exchange freshman soccer player from Japan majoring in Global Studies at St. Edward’s University. 

Introduced to soccer by his parents at about four or five, he explained he misses his family during game days. He still feels supported by friends, teammates, and the crowd, but it is not the same. 

“When I was young, my parents came to watch every game,” he said

Watanabe chose to come to Austin because his University in Japan, Asia Pacific University (APU), proposes the Double Degree Program (DUDP), which allows their students to combine an International and Japanese degree. He is hopeful that he can stay at St. Edward’s for his full four years of college.

Watanabe lived in England for three years from age 11 to 14, and came to Austin to discover American culture. Even though he learned English over there, Watanabe still had to adapt to the language barrier when he first arrived on the Hilltop. Soccer allowed him to overcome the language barrier through non-verbal communication. 

When I was in England, at the beginning, I couldn’t even write the alphabet,” Watanabe said. “But playing soccer with others, I could make a friend.”

Originally, Watanabe did not come to St. Edward’s University to play soccer, which represented more of a hobby for him. After college, he desires to become a professional soccer player. He was inspired by watching professional soccer players during special occasions such as the World Cup, the biggest international sporting event in the world. Next fall semester he is going to be part of the returning NCAA St. Edward’s soccer team. They are already training every weekday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. 

Shunji is the person that I want to play after,” Manuel Gomez, the soccer club captain, said. Shunji is the person that I know that if I don’t come to soccer practices he is gonna be disappointed. Shunji is the one, always behind me keeping me on my toes, keeping me ready. I love that man and he is a great inspiration.”

Watanabe still practices on his own wherever he can on campus for one to two hours every weekend, honing his technique. He practices with the soccer club on the Lower Field every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and indoors at the Alumni gym with the soccer team each Tuesday and Thursday.

“I am happy to have him on the team and grateful for everything he is gonna bring to us,” Gomez said. “Shunji is that player that everyone looks up to and wants to be, and I’ll be sad when he goes.”

Overall, Watanabe has the same amount of academic credits as practice hours per week: 18. Despite the fact that he would like to find more time for himself and around his friends, he still points out that sport is my priority.

To balance being part of a team with his studies, he has a specific routine: he does all his homework during the weekends or weekday mornings so he can focus on his practices. For Watanabe, studying and playing soccer have a connection.

I have learned to work hard because of soccer, and that has helped me academically, he said. Actually, it was not that hard for me to integrate into the school community because soccer helped me a lot to make friends.