The Cultural Importance of Sports


3 minute read

2021 has been a great year for sports! This summer, we’ve seen football (or “soccer” 😂 ) tournaments in Europe and Latin America, and now the Olympics! After a difficult 2020, athletes are returning to fields around the world. Of course, sports entertain and promote exercise. They also facilitate something about which we’re passionate at InterExchange: cultural exchange. Our participants have found that sporting events in the USA allow them to make new friends, learn about U.S. culture, and share parts of their own culture.

Camp USA alum Calvin Kennedy, for example, once dreamed of being a professional footballer in London. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control prevented this. However, he was able to pivot into another passion: working with youth as an international camp counselor. Although soccer has been popular in the USA for decades, it does not have the same widespread appeal as in Europe or Latin America. Calvin, from Ireland, was therefore happy to share his passion for soccer with American youth who may not otherwise have been inspired to learn and practice the game. Two older campers were particularly memorable to Calvin: “they played for a youth national team, and were keen to learn from me and a Scottish counselor. It helped,” he adds, “that we all supported the same team: Manchester United.” The experience deeply affected Cavlin. “Teaching these kids completely changed my life,” he said. “I finally found what I love doing.”

A man smiles while surrounded by boys.
Calvin found that teaching soccer to American youth created lifelong memories.
Image courtesy of Calvin.

Calvin’s duties as a counselor involved teaching soccer, but many InterExchange participants use their own free time in the USA to play and learn sports. Costa Rican au pair Rocio joined a U.S. soccer league, and her team recently won a trophy! “Soccer and cultural exchange are among my favorite activities," says Rocío. “I joined this team and met amazing people!” She also bonds with her host kids over sports: “We usually play soccer and tennis every afternoon! Sports unite the world!”

A smiling woman poses with a trophy on a soccer pitch, surrounded by her teammates.
Rocio with her American soccer team.
Image courtesy of Rocio.

While Calvin and Rocio spread their love of soccer to Americans, a few au pairs have found their appreciation for baseball. Taís, a Brazilian living with a Maryland host family, recently saw a game between two local teams. Even though it wasn’t a big game, Taís loved it. “I’m still trying to understand the whole thing,” she admits. “But I’ll get there!”

A young woman smiles in front of a baseball field, with players practicing in the background.
Taís loves learning about baseball!
Image courtesy of Taís.

Au pair Lara, from South Africa, saw a slightly more famous baseball team play. Okay, she saw the world’s most famous team: the New York Yankees. Lara, currently living in the neighboring state of New Jersey, traveled to Yankee Stadium in New York. Although her favorite player (Derek Jeter) retired from the game years ago, Lara had a great time. “It was such an amazing experience,” she says. “I would definitely recommend it to every other au pair out there!”

A smiling woman in a New York Yankees baseball shirt posing in the stands of Yankee stadium.
Lara at Yankee Stadium.
Image courtesy of Lara.

Another particularly interesting sport to many J-1 Exchange Visitors is American football, which - seen in person - can be a rowdy and thrilling experience! Don’t know how to play? No worries! Check out this explanation of American football, along with a guide to its biggest game, written by a former J-1 participant!

Sure, sports bring people together and help teach about culture. But they’re also much more important than that! The Council of Europe has observed that sports can reduce racism and be an important tool of diplomacy. Similarly, the United Nations has noted that “sports can be a diplomatic bridge to peace and a vehicle for healing political and cultural rifts among communities.” As the isolation caused by COVID-19 comes to a close, the world needs all the help it can get to bring communities back together. We’ll be watching the Olympics with the hope that sports can help this happen!

Are you looking for an opportunity to see a sporting event in America? Check out this list of major sporting events in the USA!

Matt Wallace By

Matt Wallace is the Community & Digital Content Manager for the InterExchange Marketing team. He received a Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University, and worked with the State Department and two New York organizations with missions to introduce young people to multiculturalism and international relations. He is excited to leverage this experience with InterExchange!

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation