Ian Shin dreams of playing professional football in Europe – and his parents believe New Zealand is a better training ground than South Korea for a competitor with such huge ambitions.
It’s proved handy for his Mount Maunganui Intermediate school team, with the star striker featuring heavily on the scoring sheet at the Anchor AIMS Games.
Since moving to New Zealand from South Korea this year, Shin has had the opportunity to join various club and school teams. With parks and football grounds near his Papamoa home, he is able to kick a ball around every day, without the pressure and demands common in Korea’s junior football academies.
“Living in New Zealand is helping me because I can play football every day,” he explained.
Coach and Mount Intermediate teacher Ella Golding, who plays striker for the New Zealand Māori football team, says 80 boys tried out for the AIMS team but, early in the trials, Shin quickly emerged as a certainty.
Training with the AIMS team has built Shin’s football and language skills and his team have come to depend on him.
“We usually bring Ian in to the game just before half-time and he just goes hard,” Golding says. “He’s fast, real skilful on the ball and he has a good strike so the other team don’t know what to expect.”
Team-mate Flynn Skipage agrees – “He just hoons it, fast as he can, straight down the line and he’s got really good skills and physicality”.
Flynn’s twin brother Mitchell says: “He’s really good at dribbling the ball and he’s got a powerful shot on him.”
Ian’s mother, Seonmo Hwang, says her oldest son Aaron was a homestay student at Te Puke High School last year and decided he wanted to compete his schooling in New Zealand.
“He didn’t want to come back to Korea so that’s why I came here with my younger son Ian,” she says. “And he enjoys it here, playing football.”
Shin’s father stays behind in South Korea for his job in skyscraper construction but the family meet up in New Zealand or Korea most school holidays.
During their last family holiday, Shin told his father that he wanted to shoot for a future as an international footballer: “My dream is to play professional football in Spain.”
On top of all the extra game-time he gets in New Zealand, Ian says playing on real grass – rather than the astroturf common back in Korea – has also improved his game.
“I have played on grass one time before, and [now] in New Zealand I can play on grass every day.
“I’m faster on grass,” Ian says. “It’s more comfortable to run. It’s not slippery, it doesn’t hurt when I fall down.”
Education Tauranga’s Melissa Gillingham says there are around 2800 international students in the Bay of Plenty, collectively contributing an estimated $103 million to the local economy each year, and 25 of them are playing at AIMS.
“They come here for a Kiwi experience, and it doesn’t get any more Kiwi than this.”
Education Tauranga regional manager Anne Young says student exchanges develop tolerance, kindness and a global outlook among young people. And sport is a vital tool to support that cultural growth.
“For young international students living away from their home for the first time, sport is a critical factor in them being able to make new friends and improve their English.
“Students tell us that AIMS is a one-of-a-kind sporting event, the largest that many of them will have the opportunity to participate in, and very much a highlight of their overseas study experience.”
The Anchor AIMS Games football competition is played at Gordon Spratt Reserve in Papamoa. This year, there have been 56 boys’ teams, and 34 girls’ teams – a total of 1260 competitors. The finals will be played on Friday.
Mount Maunganui Intermediate made it to the final 16 of the boys’ football competition but lost to Northcross 2-0 on Thursday morning.