Editor’s Note: “Lacrosse” and “Chile” have never been two words that are often used together. An incredibly diverse country full of generous and interesting people, Chile is home to numerous world-famous natural wonders and distinctive landscapes. The nation also possesses a tumultuous political history, and it deals with devastating earthquakes. At first glance, it may seem that Chile has everything besides lacrosse… but that’s slowly starting to change.
My name is Joel Berdie, I am a third year undergrad student at Tufts University in Boston, MA, and usually, I call the foothills of Denver, CO my home. After trudging through 3 airports, managing my way on Chilean taxis, buses, and colectivos, I finally no longer look like a gringo nomad carrying a small body (12 Maverik lacrosse sticks and two 3x Lacrosse goals) over my shoulder, and have instead, reached my new home. As of Aug 29th, 2013, I am finally in Chile, and excited to spread the word and positive culture of what no people should go without: lacrosse!
After picking up a lacrosse stick for the first time in 4th grade, like so many of us, I became addicted and haven’t stopped getting my fix since. After excelling on the field during high school and feeding my passion further, I came to Tufts in hopes of becoming part of the special, talented, and committed program that is Tufts men’s lacrosse. Unfortunately, after not making the team my freshman year and getting a severe concussion at the start of my sophomore year after making the team, lacrosse has not panned out how I expected.
Nonetheless, my interest and love for the sport still sucks up much of my time and mental efforts. Currently, my lacrosse interests and efforts have shifted away from Tufts’ Boston campus and lacrosse field, and have flown south with me to Valparaíso, Chile for a semester abroad, where I have initiated an independent research project focusing on the role of sports in the lives of Chilean youth. Through my research, it’s my goal to bring lacrosse with me and incorporate the game in whatever form I can- simply tossing around with kids, playing 500, or playing a game of 3x.
Despite a summer filled with an incredible amount of anticipation and preparation for my next few months here in Chile, everything is thankfully falling into place. Until December, I will be living with a host-family in Viña de Mar, the neighboring costal city to Valparaíso, about 80 miles northwest of Chile’s capital, Santiago. The seasonal shift, among many other overwhelming and exciting transitions, has proved quite dramatic, especially after sweating in my sleep in Boston and now sucking down hot tea, coffee, and mate here in Chile.
No matter my discomfort or hesitations, the Chilean people have been extremely warm, welcoming, and extroverted in reaching out and making an authentic effort to connect with me. I could not be more grateful for their friendliness and hospitality during my first few weeks in their country.
Now that I have finally started to settle in to a more structured and stable schedule after a hectic first two weeks, I now try to bring lacrosse into the conversation whenever I can – and I have received an exceedingly positive response. Ever since walking into my host-families home with a mysterious trash bag filled with metal rods and weird looking tennis rackets, everyone, adults and kids alike, have shown an immense amount of curiosity in picking up a stick, watching a college highlight reel, and asking me endless questions.
Although some people do not fully understand the functionality of the sport, most are impressed and excited with the fact that I was able to round up these backyard goals and sticks – so, a big thank you goes out to Maverik and 3x!
As I try to get connected with masses of kids, to whom I can both show the sport of lacrosse and connect with, in order to gather future research prospects for my project, I have already been able to link up with a couple after-school organizations whose mission it is to connect with local kids in a positive and influential manner through surfing, skate-boarding, English lessons, and rugby.
This past week I started volunteering for Valpo Surf Project (VSP), whose “goal is to use surfing instruction and academic mentoring to encourage English language skills, personal character development, and environmental consciousness among underprivileged and at-risk youth in Valparaiso, Chile.” I brought a few sticks along with me to class this week and then brought a full set of sticks and goal to the beach on Sunday for the kids to play with we weren’t surfing.
Even after only a week of working with these kids, I am really interested in diving in further with this organization, improving my teaching skills in and outside of the classroom, and consistently incorporating lacrosse into VSP’s existing curriculum. In the next week or two, I will be getting involved with a local rugby club as well to perhaps integrate lacrosse in a similar way there as well.
I know that my experiences, and what I will learn during these next 4 months, will reach far beyond simply playing toss with the kids; and already I have learned and picked up on many subtleties of Chilean culture in regards to sports. Through my observations and interactions over the following weeks, I will focus in on a more concrete research question that I will be able to efficiently execute during the 4 weeks that I will have in November to carry out my independent research project. Until then, I will continue searching for more opportunities to take advantage of where I can connect with a variety of Chileans on a deeper intrinsic level.
If you would like to keep updated on all my happenings here in Chile, check out my personal blog at chilechillin.wordpress.com.