Student Voices: Soccer in Madrid, Exploring Culture, & Community Abroad

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This piece, written by alum Marley Duerst (IES Abroad Granada, Spring 2020 | University of Michigan), shares the ways that study abroad can continue to be transformative even after you've returned home from your host country. Expanding on her international travel and global brilliance with the North American Language and Culture Assistant program, Marley joined Dragones de Lavapies soccer club and found new impact and meaning from a lifelong passion. Marley's experience shows the ways that activities can merge intercultural and multicultural experience while also serving various identities, backgrounds, and walks of life.

"Before moving to Madrid in October to work in the North American Language and Culture Assistant program, I knew I needed to find a soccer team to play on as soon as possible. Soccer has always been a part of my life and I was excited to experience the culture surrounding the sport in a country known for loving football just as much as it loves jamón and flamenco music. 

Luckily, I got involved (through a posting on a Facebook group) with the most awesome team in all of Madrid. Dragones de Lavapies is a football club based in Lavapies, an international neighborhood in the center of Madrid. Dragones is about more than football though, as they work to minimize barriers that exist in sports for many athletes. The club itself participates in activism for athletes of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ individuals, low-income families, and other efforts that use sport as a tool for bettering society. I got involved after a couple of weeks as an assistant coach for one of the youth teams and a player for the adult women’s team. I fell completely in love with the club and embraced many different roles, including eventually coaching my own team. Because Dragones is heavily connected with the neighborhood of Lavapies, it helped me feel closer and more connected to where I lived which was empowering and heartwarming.

Before arriving in Madrid, I expected my experience playing soccer to be similar to my experience in the U.S. (maybe even more exciting and overwhelming as Spain is a fútbol country rather than a football country). However, there were many unexpected differences I came across, mostly related to being a female player. In contrast to Spain, the sport is just as popular among men and women in the United States. For me personally, women’s soccer was even more prominent than men’s in my life as my Dad was the coach of women's college teams and professional teams for many years. Throughout the year, I have been shocked at the way female players are viewed and treated in comparison to male players in Spain. Specifically, with the availability of opportunities to play the sport in general. This lesson was extremely important for me to see from a first-hand perspective and inspired me to support women's football during my time in Madrid and continue to do so in my future.

I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to play and coach soccer as part of my experience this year. To feel like I have contributed in my small way as part of the women's soccer movement in Madrid makes me feel incredibly proud. I encourage others to find their passion anytime they move to a new place because it can help you learn a lot about the place and yourself. Dragones de Lavapies has been an integral part of my life in Madrid, and I hope the club continues to thrive in the future. If people are interested in this topic, they should find ways to support local, grassroots soccer organizations where they live." 

We thank Marley for spotlighting this magnificent story and emphasizing the mark that cultural facets have on individuals worldwide. While to some it may just be a sport, to others it is a sense of purpose and intention, community, and scoring goals for life. Learn more about our opportunities to study in Spain and find your community abroad.

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