Growing up, I started playing soccer in my neighborhood. We didn’t have proper soccer fields or uniforms, but we enjoyed playing with friends. Since that early beginning, I’ve always enjoyed playing soccer wherever I am. Before becoming a Fulbrighter, I took English classes in the UK, where I played with my classmates. Now, here at the University of Denver, I am the soccer team captain.
Sport is a unique way of connecting with people who have similar interests. I made many friends from different parts of the world including the United States, Brazil, Norway, Nigeria, Iran, Chad, India, and Nepal by playing soccer in Denver. My soccer teammates are special friends to me, with whom I feel we have many things in common. I think soccer is the most common sport in the world and many students love to play it, which makes it a great tool of cultural diplomacy that connects people from different nations and cultures.
My friends here in Denver have taught me that in America, football is not soccer. I think everywhere else in the world, people call it football, but Americans call it soccer. This has not only taught me about American culture but others as well. I always chat with many of my teammates about soccer in their home countries and about other cultural, social, and political topics. They also ask me about the Arab world, and I try to answer any questions they have. On our team, we’re constantly participating in cultural exchange.
Two of my teammates are also Fulbrighters from other countries, which adds another level of connection to my program. When meeting new people, I always introduce myself as a Fulbrighter, and many of my friends have heard about this prestigious program and ask me for advice on how to apply. I also know that my time playing soccer will help my professional career since soccer is a team sport. This helps me understand the importance of every team member in a work environment in order to achieve the desired objectives. Everyone likes to play as striker, but without a good goal keeper and defense, the team loses. Everyone contributes to the success, and therefore everyone’s role is important.
Besides teaching me to be a good teammate, playing soccer at the University of Denver has taught me how to appreciate the game for fun. I am a very competitive person when it comes to soccer (and other things as well), and I always want to play to win. I take every game very seriously, and I try my best to make sure we do not lose. Many of my friends just want to play to have fun and enjoy a game with one another instead of caring about the outcome. This has taught me that it is good enough to play with friends regardless of the result. I’m happy playing the game and bonding with my new friends over the sport.
Sports can be a very effective way to connect with others, especially at the beginning of your program. Universities in the United States have intramural leagues for different sports, and most probably you will find people who share your interest. Make a team and ask students you know (and those you don’t know) to join! You will have fascinating results. Do not be shy or afraid of lack of interest! Invite as many students as you can in the classroom or through Facebook groups, and you will have more positive results than you expect. Do not blame me if you end up having too many friends!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the FulbrightMENA team in August 2017 on Medium.com. FulbrightMENA is a blog for current Fulbright Foreign Students and alumni from the MENA region, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Nabeel is a second-year Fulbrighter working on his master’s degree in International Security. He is a student at the University of Denver.