I-L’s Ben Rubio readies to crush a forehand during action against Gilford last week at Prescott Park. Rubio is finishing up his exchange program and returning home to the Philippines in July. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
May 21, 2012MEREDITH – Ben Rubio still remembers the exact day he arrived in the United States for the first time.
Julian Benedict Rubio, known as Ben by most at Inter-Lakes High School, first stepped foot in Meredith on Aug. 29, just in time for a brand new school year. Rubio admits he was shy those first few months, that whole English language barrier presenting a bit of a problem in the beginning.
Coming from the Philippines, officially known as the Republic of the Philippines, presented Rubio with a plethora of issues to adjust to when he arrived in the Lakes Region for the first time to study abroad in an exchange program. But with the school year winding down, the newly-minted 17-year-old says he's more than enjoyed his stay along Lake Winnipesaukee.
"My older sister went on an exchange to Australia and had a great time there," Rubio said of his decision to come study in the U.S. "When she came back, she was more mature and knew all about the different culture and stuff like that. And my mom encouraged me to do it too. I like to travel a lot. I've been to five Asian countries and I wanted to travel around some more."
While he recently graduated from high school in the Philippines (they have 10 years of schooling compared to 12 in the U.S.), Rubio decided to take his talents (both academically and athletically) to the U.S. for a year before entering college back home.
"My perspective of the U.S. was that it's beautiful so I wanted to come see it," Rubio explained. "And I like (the) English (language). I want to become fluent in it because I'm going to study business when I go to college. Hopefully it'll help me when I talk to different business people."
While he did speak English upon arriving in August, his grasp of the language wasn't nearly as good as it is today. While he's still relatively reserved, he was very impressive in conducting an interview entirely in English.
"At first, I kind of just responded with 'yes' and 'no' when people would ask me questions," Rubio admits. "But as time went by, I'd talk more and more with friends and that helped me a lot."
While conversing with his classmates was one of the more helpful things for Rubio to feel more at ease throughout the halls of Inter-Lakes, it wasn't the best thing. That would be sports. While he initially wanted to join the football team in the fall, Rubio wound up working on his jump shot during pickup action and over at the Meredith Community Center to get ready for the winter basketball season.
"I didn't really have any friends because I'm so shy early on but when I started playing basketball, that's when I started to meet a lot more people and open up and talk to them more," Rubio explained. "And that's when it really helped with speaking English."
Rubio made the varsity squad for coach Mike Rathgeber's team, and he slowly worked his way into the starting rotation as a guard thanks in large part to his outside shooting ability.
"At first, I started on the bench for a few games but in the third or fourth game, I played some in the second half," he admitted. "Around that time, I think coach discovered I could shoot and played hard so he started me the fifth game and then I started the rest of the games after that."
While Rubio was familiar with basketball from growing up in the Philippines, that doesn't mean there weren't a few differences between the sport in his country and the United States.
"Basketball in the Philippines has pretty much the same rules as the NBA," he began. "Except here, you can't go in for a rebound on a free throw until the ball drops, where in the Philippines you can go right in for it. So my first game, when somebody shot a free throw, I came in way early and got called for it. I learned pretty quickly."
Rubio credits his fun winter with the basketball team to his teammates, as the Lakers made the exchange student feel right at home in the snug confines of the I-L gymnasium.
"It was really fun playing with those guys," he recalled. "They accepted all the people that wanted to play. We did pickup basketball before the season so I got to know them before the season started."
Now, while Rubio had played basketball before coming to the United States, the same couldn't be said for his choice of spring sport: tennis. Yes, he was a fan of badminton, and there are some similarities between the two racquet sports, but he had never so much as picked up a tennis racquet before joining the Lakers squad two months ago.
"I had never played it before," he admitted with a smile. "I wanted to try new stuff because I'm kind of athletic so I tried tennis and it interested me. Some of my friends played the sport as well."
There were some growing pains during preseason practice, but with the help of veteran coach Bill West, Rubio stepped into the starting lineup right away as I-L's number six singles player.
"The first couple of weeks, I was hitting it outside always and just hitting it hard without knowing the strokes," he explained. "When we actually practiced technically, Mr. West showed me the strokes. I also watched some videos on how to hit the ball and those really helped me a lot. Being consistent was the hardest part. I have a strong stroke but not really consistent so I had to work on that. That's why I was getting beat early on a little bit."
But Rubio's progress over the course of the tennis season was undeniable. He quickly became a steady contributor in the Lakers lineup, with his powerful serve acting as his number one weapon in piling up victories.
"I didn't really expect much but I wanted to aim for at least sixth (singles) and I got to that point so I really enjoyed it," he said of his spot in the lineup. "I didn't expect much at first because I was just doing it for fun. But I kept practicing and was happy that I got to play instead of just watching all the time. I talked to (West) a lot, I asked him for advice on what I should do, what my stroke should be. He told me a lot of stuff. I think my serve was the key to my success."
When Rubio wasn't trying his hand in the athletic arena, he was busy enjoying his time at Inter-Lakes. Whether it was taking art class, ceramics or photography to go along with some English courses to hone the language, Rubio found a nice fit with his classmates in Meredith.
"They're fascinated about the schooling in the Philippines," he said of his I-L classmates. "They all want to go study there because there's only 10 years of schooling. And they always talk about the weather, asking me about seeing snow."
Oh yes, the weather. That was certainly a hot topic for Rubio during his time in Meredith. With the average yearly temperature in the Philippines coming in at just under 80 degrees Fahrenheit, cold, snowy winters in New Hampshire were something to behold.
"I miss the beach," Rubio said with a laugh. "It's been cold here. This winter was actually the first time I've ever seen snow. Our climate is super hot in the Philippines."
Sticking with his theme of trying new things in the U.S., Rubio took advantage of the cold weather and strapped on a pair of skis for the first time in his life as well.
"There's no skiing in the Philippines," said Rubio. "So I wanted to try that too. The first week I went, I fell down a lot but I kept on going so as time went by, I got up to skiing black (diamond trails)."
While the snow is now long gone in the LR, Rubio's time in the States is winding down. He'll be here until July 2, when he heads back home to get ready for his first year of college in September. But before he goes, Rubio's excited about the school's annual whitewater rafting trip in June, as well as taking a vacation to Rhode Island with his host family.
"I'm going to come back to visit, too" he said. "I kind of want to go out west and see more of the U.S. I want to go to California and I have relatives there so I'll probably end up going there when I come back with my family down the road."
But Rubio will look back on his time in Meredith fondly, as he learned a lot about the area, and himself, during his year as a Laker.
"I came from a city (Tayabas) so it's kind of different here," he explained. "But it's so peaceful here. It's clean and the people are nice."