‘The Surprising Power of Foosball’


Rebecca Peng with her fellow interns and supervisors on her first day of work.
Rebecca Peng (third from left) and colleagues at Phenikaa MaaS.

Rebecca Peng, a rising sophomore from Pittsburgh majoring in Computer Science at Penn Engineering, is spending the summer working on environmental sustainability issues at  Phenikaa MaaS, a Vietnamese technology company that helps optimize transportation systems.  Read more dispatches from participants in Penn’s Global Research and Internship Program at its Penn Abroad Blog.

Ever since the beginning of our time at Phenikaa MaaS, it’s been easy to see how close the team is, which has taught me that I think I really like the startup culture. It was also easy to tell that most of the employees were genuinely excited for us to be there. As the week went on, more and more people would try to talk to us, and if they couldn’t speak English, they’d ask others to translate even simple questions like “do you like the food you’re trying?” We’ve gotten treated to so many meals and snacks, and I’ve been able to have conversations with so many people who want to hang out with us even on the weekends just because they were afraid we’d be bored in this unfamiliar country on our own.

Though food is a close second for ways to bond with our colleagues, foosball has somehow become the single most important activity in bringing me closer to my coworkers. In the company’s break room, there is a foosball table that is a prime source of entertainment every time we’re on break. This is about twice a day— once after people are done eating at lunchtime and another time in the afternoon when we have a snack/break time. At first, I would just stand to the side and watch the games. These people were insanely good at foosball, a game that I didn’t really think had that much skill involved. My perception of foosball mostly is the view an 8-year-old would have— maybe spin the players around as quickly as possible and hope luck is on your side as the ball shoots across the table. However, I was quickly shown otherwise. The employees were passing the ball to themselves and skillfully maneuvering the ball, all while shooting the ball so fast that I was in disbelief over how strong their wrists must be.

Eventually, I was encouraged to join in on the game with one of my coworkers. I somehow was decent at it (honestly all by luck), and that began a trend of me joining in on the rotation of games every time we had a break. During these games, I would often be playing with someone I didn’t really know as my partner, just trying my best to not shoot the ball into my own goal while my partner carried us. Most of the time, I couldn’t understand what was being said around me. I could tell they were all playfully trash-talking each other, and it was a joyous time for everyone. Laughter is universal after all, and this time was always filled with so much laughter from all around that I learned to really enjoy playing. I learned the Vietnamese word for “shoot the ball!” amongst all the noise that surrounded the foosball table every time, and I even slowly picked up on more foosball strategies. Most importantly, my relationships with the foosball regulars grew. Conversations started as we stood around the table waiting for our turn, and a camaraderie formed as I played more games. I never thought foosball would be my way of getting closer with people, let alone in a foreign country at work, but I’m so glad that I got over my pointless fear of not being good enough at the game and just trusted the kindness of my coworkers in being so welcoming.