My Fútbol Debut

This last week has been so busy and I’ve done so many amazing and culturally enriching things. I went to a winery and sampled typical Chilean wine. I went to a festival celebrating the Mapuche people (the native people in Chile). I went to an area right outside Santiago, called Cajon de Maipo, and explored the city of San Jose de Maipo. If I was smart, I would tell you about the festival I went to, which has definitely been one of the most culturally enriching experiences I have had during my time here. But something else has happened this week that although has not taught me an abundance about Chilean culture or history, has altered my daily life in a different way.
I joined a soccer team.
Before I came down here I knew I wanted to join a league and play a little bit while I was here. I packed my cleats with the full intention of getting some use out of them, but it was a lot harder to find this opportunity than I first thought. When I first arrived, I actually attempted to get on the selection team at the University, but when I obtained the email and telephone number of the coach from the athletic office they were both incorrect. I actually had a coordinator of my program try and figure out the contact information as well and she also could not get her hands on the right information. So basically my attempt to play with the University team ended in a dead-end and I thought my chance of getting to play with some Chileans while I was down here was over.
Then a few weeks ago at dinner my host mom told me her nephew had a girlfriend who was in a soccer league. My host mom kindly told this girl about me and asked if I could play on the team with them. (My host mom is literally the best!) The girl said yes and I was stoked to start playing. I had to wait a few weeks since the games for the league didn’t start until the end of April.
Our first game was this Monday. I hopped on the metro, going to a stop I’d never gone to before and trying to find a school that I literally had no idea where it was. Of course I went in the wrong direction a couple times on my way to the fields but I have now gained the confidence to ask people for directions before I get too far. I got to the field and had to ask around to see who my team was because I had never met ANY of these girls before. I’ve done some pretty sporadic things while I’ve been down here, but this was the first time I found myself in a situation immersed with all Chileans that I’d never met before and without a gringo friend to accompany me.
After finding my team they all quickly introduced themselves. Of course I only remembered two names for the rest of the night—Jenny and Daniela (American names, more or less). The game itself was so much fun. I hadn’t played in so long, since summer, and it felt so good to have it all come back to me so quickly. All the drills and passes flooded back and I found myself doing the things that my coach had drilled into us the last season I had played. I ended up scoring the first goal of the game, which surprised me since first of all I was playing defense and second, I usually don’t score goals. Instantly all the girls congratulated me and I felt like I was apart of the team.
By the end of the game not only had I won the approval of my teammates but a few girls on the other team as well came up to me and said how impressed they were with my playing ability. After we walked off the field, the girls on my team said I was the best recruitment they had made. I was shocked. I hadn’t played in so long and for all the girls to be giving me compliments like this definitely boosted my confidence. While I would not consider myself to be amazing by American standards, these girls put me on a pedestal like I was an aspiring Olympian. They said they were actually nervous to have me play with them at first because they had no idea how I played, but then said I could not have proved them more wrong. I impressed them so much that one girl asked me to play with another team in a different league the very next night. Of course I said yes. I had so much fun that night and when I walked off the field all I wanted to do was go back on and play another game. Not only that but getting to meet and play with Chileans was exactly the experience I was looking for.
The next night was just as good. I didn’t play quite as well but I met a bunch of other Chileans and had a great time getting to play with them. These past two nights have definitely made me realize though, that although my Spanish has improved a lot, I still have a long way to go. It was really difficult to understand all the girls, especially when they were all talking to each other. I could barely understand anything that was going on. When I was on the field too I realized that I didn’t have the words to say where I was so that I could get the ball. I would say “Yo, yo” or “Aquí” but I didn’t know a lot of the words I wanted to say while I was playing. I wanted to speak English so badly. It was also a challenge to be playing a game and thinking about where I needed to be on the field while also thinking about what I wanted to say in Spanish.
Overall this experience has really opened up my world down here. I’m starting to really meet Chileans and become integrated into their social circles with these teams I’m on now. It’s hard to meet Chileans when you’re only in class with them or meet them briefly in a club. But on a team it feels like you’re instantly friends. This is the exact experience I’ve been hoping for. And it’s everything I could’ve asked for. Not only will I learn so much more Spanish but I’ll make lasting friendships as well.

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