By Finn Hall
Some of my earliest, happiest, and most dismal memories stem from “the Beautiful Game.” Soccer has been a part of my life since the time I could walk. Ever since a ball was put at my feet I have never been able to satiate my desire to play, learn, and compete. From the moment that I was accepted in the Tufts 1+4 Bridge program in Cuenca, Ecuador I knew that I had to get a taste of the flare and passing of the “tiki taka” futbol of South America. So naturally as soon as the first opportunity presented itself to play in a “cancha sintetica” I eagerly took advantage of my invitation. All week I anxiously awaited the weekend and my dream fulfilling match. Finally the day came and upon my arrival to the netted tuft field I was introduced to a large group of friends and family that had all turned up to play and watch. Saludos were exchanged, lots of kisses on the cheek from the women and a mix of fist bumps and handshakes from the men and everyone began getting ready to play. We sat in a loose circle lacing up shoes and hiking socks, banter, laughter, and stories were flying around the group in rapid fire Spanish. This itself was fine, I sat silently picking what I could from the conversation and piecing parts together, however it did not take long for the attention to shift to the unfamiliar face in the crowd. Naturally this meant that I was bombarded with question after question in Spanish and found myself completely and utterly incapable of responding to a single inquiry. For those that know me this would not be a surprise as my Spanish skills are far from proficient. However despite my acknowledgement of this fact I began to become increasingly frustrated and downtrodden. Here was the moment that I had looked forward to all week and I remember thinking “I’m miserable” .
Fortunately everything changed as soon as we divided into teams and began to play. The first half hour was a whirlwind of trying to keep pace and settle into an almost entirely new way of playing soccer. At our first break I bent over, hands on my knees, feeling every inch of the 7,233 extra feet of altitude. Slowly though I began to fall into the rhythm of the game. I realized that everything was principally similar but fundamentally different. The game had transformed with the introduction of tighter quarters, play was more rapid, challenges more frequent, skill of the individual more important. As time passed my confidence began to grow and it was at this time that I came to an incredible realization: despite my lack of skills in the Spanish language I felt right at home. This was at first odd to me because up until this point I had been held back utterly and entirely by the language barrier. However this was not the case on the field. With a handful of words I fit in, was comfortable, and truly was enjoying every second. For the first time I was truly playing the “World’s Game” and buying into the principal that soccer is a wordless language that transcends borders and is spoken in feet not tongues.