Living in Costa Rica During the World Cup

 

A patriotic balloon arch in the local supermarket, celebrating the World Cup

A patriotic balloon arch in the local supermarket, celebrating the World Cup

Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll be able to tell you how I feel about sports.

They’ll say that I don’t like them.

The thought of missing out on the Superbowl doesn’t faze me. I intentionally did so this past year, in fact. As an act of defiance against the United States’ sports saturated culture, I watched three episodes of Doctor Who while people elsewhere ate nachos and screamed at their television sets. Gym class was a disaster for me when I was still in school; a few weeks ago when my API group went to Sarapiquí, we played a very non-competitive game of volleyball. Just for fun. But I wanted to cry because the volleyball unit in my eighth grade gym class traumatized me. The night I started dating my now ex-boyfriend, I allowed him to drag me to a GVSU football game. Shortly after it started, my parents called me. When they found out I was at a football game with the guy I had a crush on, my dad remarked, “She must really like this guy.” Whenever my dad has watched sports on TV, I’ve either stared at the screen with blank eyes or allowed my attention to wander.

That being said, my delighted enthusiasm toward the World Cup has shocked everyone, including me.

Now, by no means am I a religious follower of this enormous mashup of countries and soccer balls and face-painted fans. I don’t watch every game (not like I even could, really; aren’t there at least two games playing at the same time?). I didn’t even get too pumped up about the USA versus Germany game from yesterday. Essentially, I’ll watch the World Cup if other people are doing the same, but I won’t get super into it.

Unless Costa Rica is playing.

Maybe it’s a side effect of studying abroad here. Maybe I’ve been infected by the copious amounts of zeal that have been floating through the air (soccer is a big deal around here. TVs everywhere are tuned to the games, commercials talk about it, people have scrambled around the shops of Heredia and San José to purchase Costa Rica soccer jerseys, supermarkets have patriotic balloon arches…). Maybe it’s just that this is a historic World Cup for Costa Rica; they’re usually pretty lousy, but this year they’re doing incredibly well, and it’s so exciting to be able to live here in the midst of it all.

Whatever the case, it’s getting a little ridiculous.

I have gotten angry at people who have rooted for the teams playing against Costa Rica. I have gotten disgruntled when people have said that Costa Rica has no chances of making it to the next round (which they did; eat dirt, you naysayers!). I have gotten legitimately stressed out about missing Costa Rica games. My passion is so out of character that it concerns me a little bit.

Please observe.

The first game took place when my API group went to Sarapiquí (the same day as the trauma-soaked volleyball game). Because we were traveling part of that day (which namely involved switching hostels), we weren’t able to watch the entire thing. But eventually, us students and a few other people gathered into the commons area of the hostel and squeezed together on the couches surrounding the TV. It was Uruguay pitted against Costa Rica, and the score was one to two, with Costa Rica miraculously in the lead. Soccer players darted across the field, the ball soared through the Brazilian air, the Spanish-speaking announcer emphatically rolled his R’s. The air sizzled with tension. At one point, Costa Rica was getting close to the Uruguay goal. Were they going to make it? Come on, Costa Rica, come on!

The ball soared into the goal! The commons area erupted with cries, and I joined in with them, even jumping off my seat and punching my fists into the air.

And that was how it all started.

The second game was Costa Rica against Italy, and I was really going to miss it this time; my Tropical Ecology class was going on a weekend-long field trip to Guanacaste. We’d either be on the tour van or hiking through the dry forest while the rest of the country huddled around TV screens and wore soccer jerseys and waved red, white, and blue flags. I didn’t care that my fellow API peers were jealous of my opportunity to visit Guanacaste; I was very upset.

And indeed, the game started while we were driving. Our chauffeur had the radio tuned into the game, but the announcer spoke rapid Spanish. Even if I could understand what they were saying, how much would it help me visualize the field and players? Nevertheless, I leaned forward to listen, even though I had no clue what was going on, even though our occasional, sudden stops thrust me forward and nearly made me lose my balance.

Then about forty minutes from our destination, we stopped for lunch. We parked outside a supermarket, where a TV was broadcasting the game. After heading to the bathroom and buying a potato empanada, I sat down in front of another TV and watched, along with a few shoppers and workers. The score was zero to zero, and the first half was drawing to a close.

Then something incredible happened: Costa Rica scored! It was a very close score, too; the ball landed inches inside of the white line. In response, the viewers in the store cheered. The reaction was so strong that a few behind-the-scenes workers came out to see what was going on. And as for me? I screamed with them. I was even tempted to throw my arms around one of the complete strangers in the area. “We did it!” I wanted to shout. “We did it! ¡Buen trabajo, todos!

Soon after, we were ushered back into the van, but I’m glad I was able to see the one and only goal of the entire game.

The third game was Costa Rica against England, and that was this past Tuesday. When I learned the game was taking place during one of my classes, I was distraught. I would miss the game again? I just had the worst luck when it came to scheduling. And since we were supposed to give presentations, it wasn’t like we could just cancel class.

However, our professor was nice enough to let us watch the game after we’d each finished presenting. He turned the TV to the correct channel…and found that everything was blurry. We couldn’t see the ball or even the score. (Noooo!)

He tried an online streaming of the game instead. This was clearer, but since our classroom is essentially a dead zone, the picture buffered every few seconds. I was getting stressed out. Then I learned that there was another TV upstairs, and people were watching the game there. I scurried to that room and squeezed in with a group of students staring at a small TV. For the next 45 minutes or so, we sighed with relief at close calls and groaned when Costa Rica almost scored. The game ended with a tie. Zero to zero.

Still, Costa Rica had made it into the second round! Despite all odds, despite all history, despite all the people who said they couldn’t or wouldn’t…they did it. I’m so proud…

Anyway, the next Costa Rica game will take place on Sunday, and I’ll be watching that from home; in order to renew my visa, I’ll be leaving the country for a few days and will be returning later next week to attend my next summer session.

And my family was going to go out for dinner on Sunday, but after learning that the Costa Rica game takes place at 4:00 EST, I requested that we go out for lunch instead.

I’m that dedicated.

So okay, perhaps my excitement for the Copa Mundial matches or comes close to that of other sports fans. Maybe I don’t have an actual problem. But it’s so unlike me that it feels like I do. Nevertheless, I’ll continue watching the game and continue rooting for the little Central American country I’ve grown to love.

Have any of you study abroaders come to like something you never foresaw yourself enjoying? Let me know in the comments, and have fun watching the rest of the World Cup, if that’s your thing!

Allison Stout is a student at Grand Valley State University and an official API Student Blogger. Allison is studying abroad with API in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica.

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