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UTR! Diaries: Spain stint has left me hungry for more European experience, says UTR! scholarship recipient Kai Sheng

Eight promising Singapore youth footballers were awarded the inaugural Unleash The Roar! Overseas Scholarship in August 2023 to further their football development in either Spain or the United States. The talented male and female footballers, who are between the ages of 15 and 17, have been training hard at the IMG Academy in Florida and the ESC LaLiga & NBA in Madrid. In this series, we hear from these athletes on how they are coping with life overseas.

Loo Kai Sheng, 17, ESC LaLiga

In the blink of an eye, my one-year stint in Spain is over and I am now back in Singapore to early enlist for National Service.

The past year has been a time of great growth for me - both as a footballer and as a person.

I left Singapore a shy boy who wasn't too comfortable talking to and meeting new people. But I return now a more well-rounded young man, who had to learn how to be more independent and outgoing - and I think that will help me a lot in my football career.

I will always relish my time ESC Laliga. The one year in Spain has forced me to grow up faster and I have become more independent, resilient and responsible Photo by Unleash The Roar!, Ng Chrong Meng.

Culture shock at first

I think the first few weeks I was in Spain were quite tough for me. I was too shy to approach new people. But slowly, when we started mixing around, I realised that everyone is very welcoming and friendly.

There is a lot to learn from the Spanish culture and I think the values of respect for your elders is something similar to the Asian culture. It may be simple acts like holding the door for you, greeting the seniors, thanking the chef during meal time - but it goes a long way to building a culture of mutual respect and spreads good vibes.

It was my first time staying so far away from home for so long, so naturally I missed my family and friends back in Singapore. I try to call them whenever I have time.

The food here is totally different from back home. In Singapore, we usually have rice with every meal, but here in Spain, we have potatoes instead.

At ESC, we have people from all around the world who have different accents. Sometimes it's hard to understand them, and we need to ask them to repeat what they said.

Spanish is a whole new language for me, but I am glad I had the chance to learn them although it is hard.

Academics wise, it's not as challenging as in Singapore. We do projects rather than exams, the teacher will grade us on our project work.

I think I enjoy studying here a lot because we are always using technology to study. It also helped that I learned to have good time management and also how to prioritise.

I am grateful to my father for giving me a piece of advice that stuck with me throughout my time in Spain. He said: "When you step onto the field, all focus is on football. But when you step into the classroom, all focus goes to schoolwork.

That simple advice helped put things into perspective: the main reasons why I was in Spain and how I should approach both football and studies.

I had the chance to share my experience of living in ESC with our Under-14 National Development Centre footballers when they were at ESC during their overseas training camp in November 2023. I hope they got used to the potatoes and pasta! Photo by Unleash The Roar!, Ng Chrong Meng.

A higher level of football

Football wise, I had to adapt to the different playing style. In Spain, the focus is on moving the ball a lot, at pace and with intensity.

The way the coaches coach us in Spain is different from Singapore. We learn different tactics like letting the ball do the work rather than dibbling it.

I enjoyed it a lot. I try to fit into the team and understand the play style as fast as possible. The coaches also always encouraged me to improve myself.

During our one-to-one meetings, the coaches will show me the match videos of the things I did right and the things I need to do to improve.

These were useful as I kept on telling myself that I am here to improve myself not for a holiday. So I used the videos as momentum to keep going and think about what I should do next to keep improving.

One of the highlights of my stay was the chance to play Atletico Madrid's Under-16/17 team in April, just before I came back.

The highlight of my time in Spain was when I got a chance to play against one of Atletico Madrid's top youth sides. Just watching them play and move the ball around, you can tell they are an elite team. We lost 1-0 but gained valuable lessons from the match. Photo by Laliga Academy. 

Playing against the top teams always feels different. They play at a much higher standard and there is always a lot to learn from facing such strong teams.

We heard that this team was the second team for that age group in Atletico and you can tell how high the standard is. We lost 1-0 and I think I gave a good account of myself.

Continuing my football education

While awaiting to start my National Service, I am continuing my football education by playing with the Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League Under-21 League.

After less than a week back in Singapore, I managed to complete 30 minutes and had an assist in a 6-1 win over Balestier Khalsa.

I enjoyed my time in Europe and hope to one day be able to go back and see how much more I can develop and perhaps even play in Europe. Photo by Laliga Academy.

I hope people in Singapore can see that I've grown as a player and an individual and see a different me.

I am still hungry to improve. And hope I can go back to Europe after my National Service and continue the next chapter in my football and personal development.

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