I only took two bags with me when I moved from the United States to Colombia. Suitcase space was precious and deciding what to bring was more difficult than expected.
My soccer cleats made the cut without a second thought. Shoved in translucent grocery bags and placed in an over-sized duffel, they accompanied me to South America to start my new life.
During my first month and half after moving to Bogotá, Colombia, I searched for jobs and played pick-up games with my neighbor and his friends. Now I have a job and I play for a women’s team that practices near my apartment.
Foreigners tend to grasp on to anything that feels familiar while residing in a new country. Soccer is the biggest presence in my new Colombian life that soothes the sting of being a foreigner.
The fields where my team plays are tucked between the rolling Andes. Multiple games take place at the fields on Sundays and I love hearing the commotion of cheering parents and whistling referees because it reminds me so much of the sports complex where I first started playing soccer at the age of 9. It is on these fields where I feel most at home. I don’t need to speak perfect Spanish to make a perfect pass. Trying to navigate a different country and culture is challenging, but navigating a ball through an opposing team is second nature.
They didn’t know anything about me, but my team and coaches have given me the warm welcome that I have received from some many Colombians. During our most recent game, a woman on the other team unnecessarily pushed me when the play was over. As a knee-jerk reaction, I slapped her hands away from me and the referee scolded us both. Knowing that my Spanish is functional but limited, my teammates rushed to my defense and explained to the ref that the other woman started it. I was touched by my teammates’ support, then made a mental note to slide tackle the woman who pushed me. A few minutes later, I scored a goal from outside of the box and my teammates surrounded me. We jumped up and down with unbridled glee that transcends language barriers.
After the game, we all gathered on the field and set up a picnic to celebrate our coach’s birthday. Paper hats were passed around, cake was cut and drinks were poured. We sang “Happy Birthday to You” in English, which for some reason is customary in Colombia.
As I was nibbling on my cake (okay, gobbling down my cake), a new player asked me the standard questions I receive after someone learns I am not Colombian: “You just moved here by yourself? You don’t have family here?”
“No, I don’t have family here. I moved here alone,” I replied.
“That’s not true,” one of my teammates retorted. “You DO have family here. You have us.”