Our identity as people is rooted in the history we share with those around us. Our culture together defines who we are as people.
I get lost wrapping my own cultural identity in the present, between sports, politics, pop culture or regionality, even though I have a decent understanding of American history.
I hope that spending 10 days in Wales changed the scope of how our students view culture and identity.
Culture: the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
In Wales, the culture around you is tangible, with a castle serving as the center of Cardiff and every street sign conveying two languages. I felt more like a foreigner seeing a different language written everywhere, even though I easily could communicate with locals.
When the sights didn’t engross us in Welsh culture, the food and rhythm of life did. Meat pies, pints and fish were always great dinner choices. One of my favorite meals was a late-night trip to a hole in the wall place with several students, chowing on kabob.
Even the pizza seemed to taste better in a foreign country. The times I had pizza, the restaurant had a brick oven to serve up fresh Neapolitan style pies.
The most Welsh meal of all, according to Joe Towns, was sitting on the beach at Barry Island eating a piping hot portion of fish and chips (next time I’ll add the curry sauce). The blending of all these foods from different cultures made Wales even more inviting.
The culture of Wales and the Welsh people extended to sport even more. In America, our popular sports are closely tied to American identity. Baseball, basketball and American football all evolved in America, without annual competition worldwide.
Reverse this for sports in Wales, where rubgy is the national sport, followed by football (soccer) in popularity. The national teams compete on a regular basis, with the Six Nations Rugby Championship being the highlight.
Imagine the national sport of the country having massive international tournament every year. It’s not something we can relate to in America because the top three sports don’t have this scale of competition structure.
The nation celebrates into these matches, filling national stadiums and pubs with spectators. The competitions build national comradery, unifying Wales around every national team match.
We had the opportunity to expand our knowledge and appreciation to sports we don’t experience in America. I worked closely with students telling the stories of Sam Pearce, a cricket player and Lydia Hitchings, a netball player. I now have a much greater appreciation for more diverse sports.
I look forward to seeing how 100-ball cricket takes off for international competition, hoping one day to watch a match in person.
During our 10 days on the ground in Wales, we also created our own Transatlantic Storytelling culture. Culture is created through shared experiences, and we shared many hours of work, travel and recreation with the our friends at Cardiff Met.
We hiked the highest peak in South Wales (Pen y Fan), toured the historic Cardiff Castle in pouring rain, took in the beauty of Dunraven Bay, danced our way through Bingo Lingo and witnessed sporting events surrounded by cheering locals.
This experience helped shrink the world for our students by connecting them with a new culture and history. For 10 days we were able to walk along the paths of a different society.
The trip gave all of us an appreciation for a foreign land and people, their way of life, their language, their history and their experiences. Combining the immersion into Welsh culture with the curiosity to tell the stories of Welsh athletes, gave me a lasting connection to Wales.
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