Note: My name is Scott Himelein and I'm studying in Seville, Spain, until May. I will be attempting to update this blog for RichmondSpiders.com as frequently as possible. Before diving in with this, I wanted to inform my readers that I can never properly show you what studying abroad is like. When I struggled with the idea of going abroad in the fall, I was informed from every which way that it would be: "the ____ four months of your life". I heard the words "Best", "Inspiring", "Independent", and "Influential". I respected my friends' opinions and advice but never quite appreciated or trusted what they were saying. I'm writing this only nine days into my experience and I can already start to see what they meant. My point is that if you're trying to gauge this blog to see if going abroad is right for you, you're reading for the wrong reason. I hope to inform and entertain as much as possible, but in reality, you won't truly know about the world abroad until you experience it for yourself. Enjoy...
Blog Entry #3
Landing in another country is one of the craziest feelings you'll ever have. You might as well be a space alien walking through that airport for the first time. People double-take at your pale skin as they pass by. Guys' hairstyles are much neater; their jeans much tighter. The women are better-looking than you. You're surely underdressed. Police officers wear neon green. You swear the directions they give you are completely contradictory. It's chaos.
You yearn for something known. Maybe a sign in English, or just a fellow pale face. You need something to make you feel existent. My first day in Sevilla, it came in the form of an orange. As I was ready to find a cab, I looked across the street and spotted an old lady carrying a grocery bag in one hand and her purse in the other. This would seem like typical old-lady business, right?
Wrong. As her upper-body trudged along, her feet were dancing around an orange, touching it along in stride. She wove the citrus fruit in and out, pulling moves I don't necessarily associate with the elderly. She was no maestro, but still, seeing this brought me back to Earth. Language, fashion-sense and skin tone be damned, there was still futbol!
Coming in, I knew the sport would be the driving force for my initiation into the Spanish culture, but I didn't anticipate it to play a role to this magnitude. It's become a staple of my day-to-day life. When there are different social situations to choose from, I go with pick-up 5 v 5 games. On slow-moving weekends, I fill time with La Liga matches. And two weeks into my trip, with that orange still on my mind, I chose to do some community service by helping coach a youth team. I would be remiss, as UR soccer blogger, to not present you with some soccer-related anecdotes. Here are two.
The first. Recently, I went to the Real Betis-Real Madrid game with some friends. There are two teams in the city: Sevilla FC and Real Betis. Going in to the game, I promised myself I would remain loyal to Sevilla FC because I live next to the stadium and had already been to a game.
Throughout the first half, I told my friend I was just trying to see quality futbol. I absolutely would not root for Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, and I absolutely wouldn't betray Sevilla by rooting for Betis. Then I fell in love.
Tipsy men sung songs. Their hands waved around spasmodically. Goal scorers were praised like religious heroes. Fans criticized as if they were overly-aggressive soccer dads at club games. I was helpless. Come second half, with the score 2-2, I found myself a part of the sea of green yelling at the top of my lungs for Betis to overcome the evil Madrilenians.
I had succumbed to the romanticism of European hooliganism. The fine line between loyalty and fair-weather had dissipated in the face of Spanish passion. Dating back to the first blog post, I have constantly questioned the sangfroid of the common-day Spaniard. How are they always so mellow? I'm now realizing they are just like us; they just have found a common forum to vent. They've successfully transformed the stadium, local cerveceria and TV-adjacent sofa into a metaphorical stress ball. For those 90 minutes, nothing else matters. They watch games as if their lives depend on it.
The men in green ended up losing that gloomy day, and I may have lost all credibility in the realm of fanhood, but oh well. Vamos Betis.
The second. I cringe when I watch La Liga with my soccer-skeptic friends. Any anti-soccer argument made is glorified every time the players complain to the refs, fake injuries to get calls and dive at the slightest body contact. They're like children. Super athletic and super skillful children.
But really. There is an uncanny resemblance between the pros and the six and seven year old kids I coach at the local school. They cry, complain about their legs getting kicked and lie on the ground waiting to be acknowledged. They all want the ball. None of them want to play defense. It's as if there is some indelible prima donna attitude imbedded in the players here.
Now I present to you my position. 14 to 15 of these Ronaldos in the making, two balls, six cones, one black top and the tutelage of one coach with the facade of being bilingual. I struggle enough with whiny children in the U.S. Combine that with the enduring language barrier and certain problems become insurmountable. I struggle to explain drills. I struggle to break up arguments. I struggle to translate soccer jargon. I resort to miming and asking an absurd amount of questions on why Manuelo felt it necessary to kick Pepe in the shin. I feel like a combination of the guy from "The Artist" and Dr. Phil.
But it's not all dark and gloomy. Playing the sport has the ability to bridge all gaps. Language. Who stole whose lunch. Why Pepe is refusing to talk to Manuelo. All of it simply fades away when I throw that ball in the air and blow the whistle. The weight of responsibility is lifted off my American shoulders the second it hits the ground. The kids don't argue as long as they're scoring goals. They don't ask me questions as long as I'm demonstrating how to do something. Even the adolescent social hierarchy hangs in the balance through the run of play.
Popularity is contingent on team success it seems. He who scores the most goals is he with the most friends. Those who don't perform are ostracized. (Oh, and goalies) One of the quieter kids has become one of my favorites, more than likely because he listens and acknowledges his coach's lack of Spanish proficiency. He stoically stands alone for most of practice and isn't picked to be in anyone's group for drills. When I play in the games, I make a special effort to give the kid a chance. In our last practice, I set him up for a goal right near the end of the game. He ran to the corner and was rushed by the smiling children. He stood there proudly as they embraced him. While I could go on ad nauseam with barrier-shattering mentor-mentee Disney moments like this one, I'll spare you. Just take me at face value when I say it's a cool thing to witness.
Three months later, that first day still resonates in my mind. The legend of three parts Gertrude, one part Messi still embodies the ideal of the true futbol-playing Spaniard here. It resides in all aspects of life. In my daily commute from the universidad, I see old men playing pick-up (shouldn't you be working?), little kids kicking dodge-balls (shouldn't you be studying?) and bars packed with angry old men yelling at televised La Liga games (where are your families?). The game has such a profound impact on this culture even outside the lines. An American soccer player passing through can't do much but smile.