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Promised Land Calling...

There are 6,602,224,175 people worldwide who speak an estimated 6,500 different languages. The number of existing cultures remains incomprehensible. And since you began reading this, approximately 25 more people call Earth home. Within this continually changing world, few truly universal commonalities exist. What are these rare world unifiers? Sports.

Last semester I first-handedly explored a foreign culture while studying for five months at the University of Notre Dame Australia in Fremantle, Western Australia. Expectedly, I found comfort in a culture with identifiable similarities to my own. Unexpectedly, what defined my experience abroad was a sport virtually unknown to the U.S.

The game of Australian Rules Football is as unique as its home country, but the game's unfamiliarity didn't keep me off the oval. Much of the excitement of living abroad stems from making connections between past experiences and new ones-that was my approach to the game of footy, as Aussies affectionately call it.

I pinpoint the launch of my footy involvement to one evening after Sunday Mass. I introduced myself to Director of US Footy Tony Fairhead and expressed interest in his connection with my home university. The year before, he constructed a footy team consisting entirely of American men studying at UNDA. A thirty minute conversation on Australian-American relationships in sports produced a better cultural understanding for me and a new "go to" girl for him. The following day, I began working with the men's team to increase sports opportunities and awareness of Australian football in America. The following week, I began playing myself.

The generally male dominated game intrigued my female peers as well. So with some recruiting, we formed the inaugural Yankaroo footy team for American women in Australia. We trained with the men twice a week, and eventually acquired our own coach and ran our own practices. Eventually, the South Fremantle women's team-also in its first year-invited three of the American women to join.

I spent the next few months learning footy technique and regulations from those who know it best. For a sport previously unheard of to me, I picked up on it quickly. We kicked like in soccer, tackled like in gridiron, and had high scoring games like in basketball. Footy encompasses the best parts of our favorite games in America. I related my previous athletic experience to the one at hand. Inversely, my Australian mates learned a bit about my culture too.

Recently, a former teammate informed me that the South Fremantle women earned a spot in the grand final. I dream of pulling back my hair, slipping on my red and white socks, sporting my number 47 jersey and marching proudly onto the football oval with my team. But I've since returned to the States, and I've returned with experience and guidance to pass on to future footy players. I hope that others realize footy isn't bound by the borders of its home country. Regardless of the country, regardless of the culture, people connect through the universal language of sports. And right now, footy is begging to be played here.

Facts in opening paragraph were retrieved from:

  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (2005). "Ethnologue: Languages of the World." Dallas, Texas: SIL International. [Electronic version]. Retrieved September 14, 2007, from