SANTANNA: Sports serves as universal bond between different cultures

Kaitlin Santanna

A student’s transformation from the first time they step onto a college campus as a freshman to the day they don a mortarboard is clear. This change is a worldly one as students learn to fend for themselves away from the comforts of home. And for hundreds of thousands of college undergrads across the nation, the leap to becoming more worldly occurs by doing just that, traveling the world.

Spending time in a foreign nation away from parental supervision takes place either through international studies or for leisure, usually in the form of spring break. Whether for entertainment or education, spending time in another country involves a shock when first exposed to a culture vastly different from the American way of life. With a universe of different traditions in each country, it is hard to imagine that a cultural constant could possibly link any travel experience together.

During my time at Villanova, I have been lucky enough to spend time in two foreign countries, Greece and Jamaica. These nations and my experiences in them could not be more drastically different from my life in Pennsylvania, but during my stay, one unexpected and familiar part of my world made these distant lands feel like home. This constant that appears the same on the rocky shores of a Grecian island as it does on my living room television is the unconditional and irrevocable passion for sports.

The first time that this universality of sport became apparent to me was during my five-week stay in Greece over the summer. It was throughout this time that the annual Union of European Football Associations’ Euro Cup was taking place. Greece had a team in the tournament, and everyone in the surrounding area, Greek or not, knew when they were playing. I will never forget almost getting bowled over by a convoy of motorbikes honking and screaming while I attempted to walk down a narrow street in Greece. The bikes boasted blue and white streamers and the faces of their operators were painted in these same colors of the Grecian flag. The team had yet to play that evening – this was simply a pregame declaration for the team they love.

It was not just for the home-country team that sparked excitement. Restaurant after restaurant on the town’s main street posted signs with the night’s soccer schedule. During these games, big screen televisions broadcast the matches. Despite the size of the screens, it was often difficult to actually see the picture through the hoards of fans watching the game. The onlookers too were draped in the colors of their country, feeling at home supporting their team despite the many miles separating them from their native land. Although I did not support a team in the tournament, the group of people gathered for a game-watch party reminded me of the same rituals that I partake in watching sports in my home in America.

At the time, I assumed that this universal passion for sport was mostly due to the worldwide love of soccer.

It was much to my surprise and excitement that this love for sports also appeared in a country very different from Greece. Jamaicans are not soccer-crazy fans, but instead love cricket. Throughout the day, cricket was constantly on the television. The local Jamaicans usually stopped at the hotel to watch, cheer and yell at the screen, an act that appears insane to any non-sport advocate. I smiled as I saw this with distinct memories of my friends and I also yelling at inanimate objects in an attempt to urge on our favorite team.

As we traveled throughout the Jamaican countryside, there were no glimpses of the bobsled team practicing on land (though we did see them at the airport). Instead, a soccer-turned-polo field equipped with a grandstand was filled. Even non-conventional sports garner the same fandom that appears throughout the United States daily.

Not only did the presence of this love for sports remind me of home and consequently make me feel at peace in a time of adjustment, it made me consider the universality of fans. People from different countries are often deemed wholly dissimilar from ourselves. Foreign squabbles are built on these differences. When traveling to an unfamiliar land it is usually the ways that we are different that are the first to be noticed rather than the fact that, despite our contrasting cultures, humans are in many ways the same.

I am not suggesting that just because two different people from enemy countries both enjoy watching a game of soccer, they will instantly get along. Instead it is the idea that since this love for sports, a passion that is certainly palpable across Villanova’s campus on the day of the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 game, extends across the world that humans aren’t as different as we may originally believe. Every person loves, as eloquently spoken in the movie “Fever Pitch,” to invest their soul in something that they cannot control. There is a certain thrill and emotion that is only found when your team scores that championship-clinching goal or loses in the game’s last second on a missed basket.

The next time that you find yourself suffering from culture shock when in a foreign country thousand of miles from home, seek this universal love for sports to bring a sense of familiarity. You may be cheering for a different team or speaking another language, but chances are you feel the same passion for sports as the person standing next to you.


Kaitlin Santanna is a senior mathematics and communication major from Hummelstown, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].