New Kid on the Block

I remember my first day of second grade. I was starting at a new school in a new city. I remember my mom giving me a hug in front of my new classroom. I remember how her hand lingered on my back longer than normal. I remember my brand new Beach Boys folder. I remember how proud I was of that folder because I was sure all of the other second graders would think it was so cool that I had surfers on my folder. I remember thinking that the other second graders would want to be my friends because I had such a cool folder.
I remember feeling anticipation, anxiety, and apprehension of meeting all of my new classmates. I remember the strong desire to fit in. I remember being completely consumed by the thought of making new friends. It’s a very familiar feeling. In fact, it’s the way that I’ve been feeling since I arrived in Montevideo.
The organization for which I work is called La Obra Ecuménica. La Obra functions as Casa Joven during the morning and Club de Niños in the afternoon. Casa Joven is a program for adolescents ages 13-17 years who aren’t in school for some reason or another. Some are taking classes at La Obra that will get them the equivalent of a high school diploma. Others engage in different activities such as recreation, music, art, and cooking (this is where I fit in). The mission is to not only help these teens develop their skills in the aforementioned areas, but to build their confidence, advance their teamwork/cooperation skills, establish a level of responsibility to and for others, and develop meaningful relationships.
Sometimes, as a part of this mission, we get to engage in our own version of the World Cup. We get to branch out of our small group and compete against other teens who participate in similar organizations. The World Cup activities consist of a soccer game and some sort of artistic expression (music, theatre, dance, etc.).
The last time we went to the World Cup, I somehow ended up actually playing in the soccer match. (Why did this happen? I’m not sure. As my Spanish skills are still child-like, I usually don’t know why I’m doing things or what exactly is going to happen until the moment that it occurs. Sure, if I understood everything that I was told I’d be more prepared and put together, but for now, I will enjoy this forced spontaneity; Move over Justin Bieber, I’m joining you on the edge!)
I was actually extremely nervous when my boss told me that I would be playing. I haven’t played soccer since I was 13-years-old. My skills are not up to par with Uruguayans; soccer isn’t a game here, it’s a way of life! I’m already reliving the first day of second grade everyday – I just want them to like me, I just want to be a part of the group – now, I certainly don’t want to embarrass the team with my soccer skills (or lack thereof).
As we were lining up in our positions, my team was telling me where to stand. “To the right, to the right. Now back up a little. There!” As the seconds before the game got lower, my anxiety crept higher. I just want them to like me, I just want to be a part of the group.
The game started. I knew that ball control was not my forte. I knew that running was. My game plan was to outrun the other team. I will run faster, I will run longer, and when I have the ball, I will get rid of it as quickly as possible, I thought.
When all was said and done, I managed to run a lot, touch the ball a little, and sometimes even advance the ball upfield. After one such success, I heard a voice behind me: “Bien, profe!” (Good job, teacher!) Never have two words sounded so sweet. “Bien, profe.” He was talking to me, right? I was the only profe on the field. He was talking to me. “Bien, profe.” The words played over and over in my head. I was absolutely elated by them. My second-grade-self was jumping for joy; I’d been accepted. My soccer team liked me! They think that I’m doing a good job. I’ve made it!
Everyday is a new challenge. Will I understand what I’m supposed to do? Will I please my boss/co-workers/the adolescents/the kids? Will I fall flat on my face? Everyday the answers to those questions are both yes and no. Some days are more successful than others. Some are full of “Bien, profe” moments and some are absolutely not. As the clock ticks on and I’m almost at the one-month mark in this country, I continue to find my place among my new companions.

I remember feeling anticipation, anxiety, and apprehension of meeting all of my new classmates. I remember the strong desire to fit in. I remember being completely consumed by the thought of making new friends. It’s a very familiar feeling. In fact, it’s the way that I’ve been feeling since I arrived in Montevideo.

The happy team after the game.

The happy team after the game.

You can also see some video clips of our game http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJi-U2wW0aw complements of INDA. We are the white team; look 12.5 minutes in.

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