David Adams is your typical American teenager. He loves Subway sandwiches on toasted white bread. His dad has to bug him to finish his homework before he goes to soccer practice. And he spends a couple of hours each night on Facebook.
However, while most ninth graders are rushing to finish their math homework at recess and going to Friday night dances, Adams is spending four hours each day training with the U-15 team of a Mexican first division soccer club. Adams is in Mexico for six months as part of an exchange program between his home club, Utah FC, and Queretaro FC.
"My dream is to play soccer professionally and I'm learning so much here from my coaches and the other kids," says Adams. "The speed of play here is much faster than I've seen before and everyone on the team plays at a very high level."
And he's not just talking about their soccer skills. Located about 160 miles northwest of Mexico City, Queretaro sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level. That's no small adjustment when you're playing soccer for a few hours every day. Even for a kid from Utah.
"It felt like I couldn't breathe the first time I went out to play soccer. After the training session, I was gasping for air," Adams says, recalling his first day of practice two weeks ago. "Even now that I've adjusted to the elevation, it's still more difficult to run and exercise here."
But he's not complaining. Adams knows how lucky he is to have this opportunity to train with a premier Mexican youth soccer club -- for free. "There were about 300 kids at the open tryouts just after Christmas. Only three of us were selected and I was the only American."
It's no secret that Mexican clubs have been scouring the United States for talent, but to-date their eyes have been on Mexican-Americans such as Edgar Castillo and Jose Francisco Torres, who joined Mexican clubs' youth programs as teens and are now first-division starters. Adams, however, has no ancestral ties to south of the border.
It was his coach at Utah FC, Saul Santos, who saw his potential and suggested that he fly to Mexico for the tryouts. "David is a player who has the skill, the physical ability and the fitness level to make it at a high level in soccer," says Santos. "He always wants the ball at his feet and he has personality in the field. He's the kind of player coaches love."
So does Adams feel lonely or left out as the only American among a Spanish-speaking team?
"Everyone here has been really welcoming and accepting," says Adams, whose blond hair makes him easy to spot in the team photo. "Part of the goal of the exchange program is for the Mexican players to learn English and my Spanish has definitely improved already. I can order my favorite Subway sandwich in Spanish."
In addition to learning Spanish in this unique immersion program, Adams is also taking a full load of classes as part of an online independent study program through BYU to keep him on track with his classmates when he returns to Utah at the end of the school year.
"It is a bit of an adjustment not going to school. I miss my friends and the social stuff," Adams says. "But when I'm at home I play soccer every day and here I get to play more soccer every day. That's what matters and that's what I'm here to do."
But Santos hopes Adams comes away with something more, something deeper.
"For many of David's teammates in Mexico, soccer is their only shot to get out of poverty," Santos says. "Soccer gives them hope. By participating in this exchange program, I hope soccer takes on a different meaning for David."
(Emily Cohen is a freelance writer living in Berkeley, Calif.)