Nelson Mandela was a man who saw the power of sports and its power to foster and strengthen connections, bridge geological boundaries and shatter racial barriers.
An intramural soccer team that meets during game nights on campus does all that and more, with a roster built largely from international and exchange students.
Sophomore Mohammed Al-Askar is an international student from Saudi Arabia. For him, the stark transition to the U.S. was made easier through soccer.
“This team has helped my transition to [Western] in so many different ways,” Al-Askar said in an email. “Being part of the team made me feel like a real member of [Western], made me feel like I belong to this school.”
Teresa Suehiro is also an international student studying music education, she specialized in playing the violin. she has been at Western since September 2015 after growing up in Korea and Japan.
“I really like it here. Being Japanese in Korea and being a foreigner in Japan, is really difficult. You don’t fit in anywhere and you get judged a lot for not being Korean enough or Japanese enough,” Suehiro said. “But here, everyone comes from everywhere so I fit in.”
She said Western has been a place where she has seen a much more inclusive atmosphere amongst her peers.
Not only are international students getting in on the act, but so are American-born students.
Junior Haylee Mann has lived in Washington her whole life and has made a similar connection that Al-Askar and Suehiro have made with the team. Mann heard about the team through her roommate, a German-exchange student, during fall quarter.
“I didn’t expect to meet people and make friends here because I’m kind of introverted, but I love playing soccer,” Mann said in an email. “So I joined, we started practicing and playing, and everyone just got along really well. My favorite part is probably that we all get along really well and are supportive of one another no matter what happens.”
Ian McDaniel, the team’s manager, was born in America and raised in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.
“Honestly I feel as just a part of the team as any of the players and I quite enjoy my honorary title ‘manager,’” McDaniel said in an email. He said he also likes to keep things light and fun on the sidelines.
“Back in early October I appeared at one of their first games wearing a blazer, jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, and flip flops,” McDaniel said in an email. Overall, McDaniel echoes the overarching sentiment of the team he calls a “tight-knit family.”
“Being involved has given me a reason to look forward to every Wednesday night and feel like I am part of something bigger than myself,” McDaniel said in an email. “I can truthfully say that my college experience has been grossly enriched by my experience with ‘my’ (highly sarcastic) team.”