Coming from the United States to Chile, I knew that soccer was the national sport and Chile’s team performed well at the last world cup. Beyond that, I know very little about soccer. Growing up in the U.S. there were always a multitude of sports available to play as a child. From basketball to baseball to crew, Americans are known to be exceptional at many sports. Soccer however, is not one of them. A three sport athlete of Football, Baseball, and Racquetball in high school, I had not played in an organized soccer game since I was roughly 8 years old. Sports wise, coming to Chile was quite the wake up call.
The first day of orientation, I began talking to a boy from Medellin, Colombia. Immediately, he started talking to me about soccer. Unable to tell him more than who a few teams are in the Barclay’s Premier League, he began to realize that I did not play soccer.
“How can you even live with yourself!?” He asked me in Spanish. “Soccer is why I wake up every morning, nothing makes me happier than going out onto the field and scoring Golazo’s with my friends.” From that point on, I knew this was going to be a culture shock that I did not expect.
Whether I’ve met kids from Chile, Colombia, France, Morocco, Nicaragua, and more, they all have one thing in common: they grew up playing soccer. Being the gringo of the group, I have been teased with the stereotypical “American’s are only good at the sports they invented” line over and over. But the biggest thing about it is, it couldn’t be more true. To my horror, my friends decided to organize soccer games twice a week on a turf field nearby. Even though they knew I hadn’t played soccer, they welcomed me to come play with open arms. The first game I played in however, felt like a final exam for a course that I didn’t attend once. Unable to control the ball or make quality passes, the European’s and Latin’s we’re astounded by how bad I was at soccer.
Since, I have made a concerted effort to become serviceable at the sport. With the help of my friends and the continuation of playing for an hour and a half twice a week, I feel that I am experiencing a part of the South American culture that the common tourist never will. Sometimes, the best experiences can come from where you least expect them and personally, I am thrilled that I get to compete at the world’s most popular game with people from all corners of the globe.