Carmel High School sophomore wrestler Jake Shafer saw the cultural exchange with New Zealand from both ends.
In the summer of 2018, Shafer was one of several Carmel USA Wrestling Club wrestlers who visited New Zealand as part of an Indiana State Wrestling Association contingent. Then, Shafer and his family played host to four wrestlers out of a group of 10 wrestlers and two coaches who visited Carmel from April 15 to April 23. The Shafer family played host to two girls and two boys.
“When we first arrived after the long plane trip last summer, they greeted us with their haka, which is their traditional dance,” Shafer said. “We had to sing a song back to show trust. When they came here, they also did the haka at the wrestling tournament.”
Shafer said he observed that people from New Zealand’s have a more laid-back attitude.
“They see the people in America more focused on jobs and a little more angry,” Shafer said.
Shafer also noticed how much smaller New Zealand is as a nation. Indiana has approximately 2 million more people than New Zealand.
“Everyone on the team that came here knew each other and they weren’t on the same team or from the same area,” Shafer said. “They were super nice people all around.”
The New Zealand wrestlers competed in an open wrestling tournament at Southport High School. Shafer said in New Zealand wrestlers only compete in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. In the U.S., wrestlers also compete in folkstyle, which is the Indiana high school format.
All 10 New Zealand wrestlers, six females and four males, and two coaches joined nine Carmel wrestlers and coaches in attending the April 21 Indiana Pacers’ playoff game against Boston.The New Zealand contingent also visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“When the kids get to interact together, those the things are pretty special,” CHS coach Ed Pendoski said. “The coaches took a picture of me putting peanut butter on a banana every morning. It was the most unusual thing. They would take pictures of fire hydrants because they never see them (in New Zealand).”
One thing Pendoski found unusual is the New Zealand wrestlers all called their coaches by their first name.
Pendoski said the New Zealand visitors all wanted to see Target, Walmart, Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A because those chains are also in their nation.
Pendoski said he has built relationships around the world through the cultural exchanges.
“Wrestling is what binds us together,” he said.