"I am freakin' out. It is one week before departure. Quick! Write more articles so I can feel ready" That was the Facebook message I got from Bob, a friend and former student who is moving to Japan this week to start a teaching job. Bob knows some things about Japan in an academic way. He studied the language for a few years and took a culture class. He plays lots of video games. He has enough familiarity with Japan to know that he is getting himself into something vastly different from the life he currently knows. And now, with one week until take off, he is feeling a little anxious. So Bob, this one's for you.
All of this taking off and putting on of shoes makes you rethink your shoe choices. If you know you will be going in and out of homes or visiting a restaurant with the type of seating that requires you to take off your shoes, you learn pretty quickly that wearing Converse All Stars or boots with lots of lacing means you’ll be tugging your shoes on frantically while everyone stands around and waits for you before the group can move.
But the miraculous thing I've discovered about soccer, about any sport, is the absolute dissolution of cultural barriers that occurs when you step upon a pitch, a field, a court. The rules of soccer are the rules of soccer, wherever you are—the park behind your high school in the United States, the famed stadium in downtown Sao Paolo, the rough-and-tumble field in front of Princess Chulabhorn's College. There is suddenly no need to speak the same language, to have the same ideologies, to practice the same religion. You can just play, uninhibited and unrestricted, without judgment or alienation. It truly is miraculous.