Sports build connections, no matter if you play little league baseball or professional soccer. Traveling is also another way to learn new things and meet cool new people. When you combine these two experiences, the rewards are huge.
Whether you are traveling with family, for a study abroad semester or even after you graduate, I encourage you to take time to play the sport you love when you travel. You may be surprised by the people you meet along the way.
My first experience playing basketball abroad was on a high school trip to China, where I and a few other Americans joined forced to play against the local high school boys team. We played for over an hour before finally snagging a victory. By the end, all the Chinese high school students were cheering us on to victory.
That was my first taste of playing sports internationally. Despite the language barrier, I could hop in and have fun playing the game I loved. Competed against a different playing style and new techniques and brought home a tactic or two to use in my own game. And that was just from a single game.
Then I moved to Taiwan for two years. Two months after graduating from college, I moved across the world to teach English. Fresh off my final college season of basketball, I was eager to get back on the court. But first, I had to overcome massive culture shock and settle into my new job. I was overwhelmed by the transition to a new country, playing sports faded to the background of my priorities.
It wasn’t until I moved to a new city that I started searching out different basketball groups. I showed up at open gyms and stepped onto the court with my language skills and a desire to play. A lot of the time, people were surprised to see a foreinger on the court. But they quickly welcomed me into the game once they realized I loved it as much as they did.
During my two years in Taiwan, I built up a whole network of teammates who became great friends. We’d grab dumplings for dinner together at a night market and then head to the court to play basketball for hours. My language skills improved rapidly as I started speaking with locals on a daily basis. And I was introduced to a side of Taiwan that I would never have found on my own.
It was an amazing experience and one of my most treasured memories. And it all started because I dared to show up to the court.
What You Gain
Playing sports abroad has so many benefits. Whether you’re in the country for a couple of weeks, a few months or even years, there is something to gain by searching out a game nearby.
First, you get to play the sport you love. After sitting on buses, planes and trains, a workout always feels good. It’s a great chance to shake off the jet lag and get a sweat in.
It’s also a great chance to make new friends. You don’t need to speak the same language to play sports together. And playing a pick-up soccer game or dropping in on a skateboarding rink is a great way to meet locals and connect with people from different cultures.
You’ll also get some lessons in the local language. At the very least you’ll learn the basic words you need for the sport. Ball. Foul. Pass. Screen. Nice play. But this is also a cool chance to stretch your language skills and talk with your new friends. If you’re on a study abroad, this is a great way to transition your language learning outside of the classroom. If you just have an interest in the language, you can learn some basic phrases.
Chances are, if you show up a couple of times, you’ll build connections with other athletes. And this opens up a whole new world of opportunity to explore the place where you’re traveling. The possibilities are endless, and only there if you give it a shot.
How to Get In the Game
If this is something you’re interested in trying, it may take a little research to find a place to play. You can check sites like Meetup, Facebook or local sites ahead of time to see if groups play together regularly.
Or you can wait until you’re in your new city and use Google maps or walk around the neighborhood to find a local court or field. Often, in the evening, when everyone is out of school or off work, the games will begin and you can walk up and join.
Don’t be shy. It can often be intimidating to walk up to a game where you don’t speak the language and don’t know the system. But most of the time, people will be really curious and will ask you to join. It can also be helpful to have another local bring you to the court to ease the transition too.
You don’t have to be a professional to play overseas. Pretty much anywhere you go in the world, there will be the chance to play your sport. Give it a shot and see what happens. It may lead to you some amazing memories.