Bonding pt 2: The case of sports

My forays into a sport I love and play quite a bit back home – badminton, which, by the way, ain’t a picnic! – turned out to be a small-scale lesson on how to conduct myself in international affairs. In the American schools, including the universities, the athletics play a remarkably bigger role than in many European countries; the different sports are always integrated into school activities, and the universities have their representative teams in various sports. In the U.S., badminton isn’t one of these, which means that getting to play it takes some extra effort.

Badminton is a popular sport in Northern Europe, but in the U.S., it is hardly considered a serious game, and played only somewhat sporadically. In Boston, a city size of Helsinki, there is no commercial arena for playing badminton: should you ask about available courts, people usually tell you that Harvard has two courts and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has something like eight. In both of these world-class universities, the Badminton Clubs are virtually run by Asians, in particular, Chinese students, who play at an admirably high level.

This was the case with Harvard, too, though the practices every now and then saw a few Europeans as well, and there was one regularly attending American member. At first, I was stunned by the overwhelming number of players contrasted with the strikingly low number of courts available at Harvard. Harvard Badminton Club met every Sunday for about five hours, and the average turnout of players was something like 25. Virtually, there was no chance to play singles, but all the time was spent playing doubles, including mixed pairs…

I spent a few months trying to learn the secrets of playing doubles, with varying success. I was hoping to catch some of the rudimentary tricks from the more advanced players, and hopefully I learned by imitation what we didn’t discuss verbally. Thus the semester went and I felt like I could improve much faster. When the summer came, the official practices winded down, and I was left wondering whether there would be a way to play in the summer…

I volunteered to organize the practices, and in about a week, I took the initial responsibility for confirming that the courts would be available for us every Wednesday night, and I sent out emails each week encouraging newcomers to come and play. I decided not to change anything in the system (or lack thereof) that most of the folks playing the Club seemed to prefer. And little by little, I found that more and more people were showing up in the practice, and all of a sudden, I was one of them.

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And here’s the lesson learned as far as international exchange: Whenever you find around you a slow start in inter-cultural interaction  whenever you feel like things should be done differently – don’t hesitate but give yourself time to find a natural way of fostering exchange. Whenever tensions arise, it is the case that they can be better alleviated through doing things together rather than trying to affect a change on a theoretical plain. Nothing need not necessarily be changed, but you will be changed…


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