Washington College Magazine

Soccer Without Borders

July 25, 2013
In an annual rite of spring, Professor Shawn Stein invites the local Latino immigrant population to campus for a day of cultural exchange and conversation centered around the universal language of soccer. The Día de Fútbol is about so much more than the game.

WCM: How and when did the Día de Fútbol get started? 

Stein: I started the Día de Fútbol in my first semester at Washington College, in 2007. It was just a spontaneous decision to try to organize a community event that was centered on soccer. I was interested in trying to meet the Latino immigrant community, and I thought that soccer would be an interesting vehicle for that. The first Día de Fútbol ended up being more of a pick-up game. We had planned to do a clinic for kids, but we didn’t get very many elementary school-aged kids. A lot of high school kids showed up, so we just played soccer, shared a meal, and got to know each other. The next year, I approached Kaitlin Thomas ’07, who has been working in the community as an advocate for immigrant families intermittently since graduating. Her involvement has played a key role in helping to bridge our two communities.


WCM: What’s the schedule like now?

Stein: On the morning of the event, we send people out into the community to provide transportation, and the rest of us set up at the stadium. When people arrive, we do an icebreaker where we all divide into small groups and try to get to know some of our fellow participants, being mindful of having a good mix of College and local people in each group. From there, we move on to a family literacy activity, and after that, we take the elementary school-aged kids off to the soccer clinic, which is about a half-hour of skills work and drills and a half-hour scrimmage. While the clinic is going on, the older kids and adults usually start a pick-up game that continues until lunch and then picks up again after. Those who are not involved in the soccer activities are directed to our conversation exchange area. People from the community who want to practice their English are paired up with people who are keen to practice English with them, and Spanish-language learners pair up with people from the community who are willing to practice Spanish with them. 


WCM: Can you talk a little more about the literacy aspect? Is that something you’d wanted to do since the beginning? 

Stein:  The literacy aspect is something we added in 2008. It grew from our partnership with the organization formerly known as Even Start in Sudlersville (now Family Support), which is a community organization that provides social support services to the immigrant community. The grant that funded their organization was tied to family literacy, so in order to collaborate with us, there needed to be a family literacy component to the event. I thought it would make a great addition to the day. Even Start brought a librarian to the second Día de Fútbol, and she read to the whole group. Like the rest of the event, the literacy component has evolved every year. It’s now something that’s much more inclusive and experiential because it allows our students to step in and take the role of literacy instructors. We break into groups, and we have students who are responsible for a family or families, and everyone takes turns reading and talking about the importance of reading as a family. Professor Bridget Bunten’s involvement the past few years has been essential. Bridget is a literacy education expert, so she’s taken over that component of the Día de Fútbol, which has greatly enhanced the activity and helped to get more Education students involved. 


WCM: What has the response been from the immigrant and College communities?

Stein:  The immigrant community loves it. If we did four Días de Fútbol a year, they would come. It’s special for them. They don’t have a lot of days of the year that are devoted to them and their children, so having a chance to come to campus and give their children exposure to a college—to college students and people who are actually interested in getting to know them—is appreciated. And the response from faculty and students is similar. They love it because it’s a unique opportunity for them as well. They get to interact with people who are very different from those they normally interact with on a day-to-day basis, at least for most of them. I know that this sounds sappy, but it’s really just a day of friendship and learning about other people. And it helps both groups get over some of their fears of “the other.” 


WCM: How do you hope the program evolves? 

Stein: I’m very pleased with the way it has developed over the years. Every year it’s bigger and stronger. I would, however, like to see more turnout from the community; that’s always our biggest struggle. We’ve grown to encompass an average of 80 people between College and local participants, but we still struggle to get many families from the local immigrant community to attend. So, I’d like to continue to work on marketing the event outside of campus. And I think it would be wonderful if we could somehow find more financial stability. We’re putting it together piecemeal every year. It’s a good experience for the students who learn how to do fundraising, but it makes for more chaos during planning. 


WCM: What do you think is the most important takeaway? 

Stein:  The event is very fun, and the local community gets a lot out of it, which makes it worthwhile for me. But I think it’s important to know that what drives this are the students. I teach Spanish language and Latin American culture, and for me it’s such an important day pedagogically, particularly for students who are studying Spanish and plan to study abroad some day. This is as close to a day of immersion as you’re going to get in Chestertown. I have an experiential learning component in all of my courses where students are required to reflect on an activity that has both a linguistic and a cultural component. It encourages them to seek exploration, experimentation and adventure in their studies. To receive credit, they have to complete a write-up that includes a summary of the activity and a reflection of what they learned from it. The Día de Fútbol is the epitome of the type of activity that I want them to be doing. It always makes me happy to read their reflections about what they learned from their participation in the Día de Fútbol. Hearing what the students get out of it in their own words is a big part of why I do this. 


An associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. Stein focuses his teaching and research primarily on contemporary Latin American literature, film and culture. He  is currently working on an extensive project on the representation of gender and identity in soccer fiction in Latin America. 

By Karly Kolaja ‘11

Last modified on Jul. 29th, 2013 at 12:21pm by Kristen Hammond.