Foreigners in Tianjin find a fresh goal to aim for

Updated: 2013-06-22 02:04

By ZHAO YINAN in Tianjin (China Daily)

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Foreigners in Tianjin find a fresh goal to aim for

A match between the International Soccer Team in Tianjin Binhai New Area and local police on May 18. ZHANG MIN / CHINA DAILY 

Soccer team helping newcomers to the city adapt to their surroundings

If it weren't for a soccer team, Ibon Kapelastegi said he would probably end up in a bar almost every day.

"The team gives me another place to go and spend leisure time after work. Otherwise, I'd probably be idling here all day long," the Spanish machine designer said while taking a late lunch in a soccer-themed club in Tianjin Binhai New Area.

Although Kapelastegi is reluctant to admit it, he does not speak very good Chinese or English, making it harder for him to integrate into the community.

How to fit in is a question facing many overseas residents in China, such as Kapelastegi.

Binhai New Area, located in the largest international shipping center in northern China, has seen rapid development in the past decade.

The port area, with large tracts of former wasteland, is now known for its biotechnology, petrochemical and aerospace industries. It has attracted a rising number of foreign investors and workers in recent years. By the end of September, it was home to more than 7,000 overseas residents from 23 countries, five times the overseas population that was in the area five years ago. The huge increase in foreigners means it is crucial for local authorities to provide a friendly and accommodating environment.

Liu Guofu, an immigration law professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, said although China is providing streamlined visa procedures and other measures for overseas residents working in the country, they constantly feel isolated from the mainstream community.

The football team in Tianjin, known in Chinese simply as International Soccer Team, helps foreigners kill time after work.

Zhang Yan, manager of the all-foreigner side, said the team was formed in May 2011 when she was working for a foreign-invested company as an administrative manager.

"We had only five members in 2011. Now the team has 18 players from 12 countries."

They include four from Finland, three from Canada, two from Britain and one from Japan, who is the goalkeeper, said Zhang, a soccer fan herself.

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