Nationalism: 1. Mamá, 2. Dios, 3. El fútbol

If you haven’t been keeping up with the World Cup, Costa Rica advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in history. When discussing our experiences from the weekend, my professor told us this today:

“Un tico ama a tres cosas: 1. su mamá, 2. Dios, 3. el fútbol, en este orden.”

“Costa Ricans love three things: 1. mom, 2. God, 3. soccer, in that order.”

Honestly, I had never watched a single soccer game on tv prior to flying thousands of miles from home to Costa Rica, where the entire country is on fire for the sport. To be fair, in the United States, the population historically hasn’t paid much attention to the World Cup or soccer at all, really. But once every four years, all of Latin America is glued to the television for approximately six weeks. My host dad has watched every single game–many more than once–and the only breaks in television broadcasting from discussing the World Cup happen at noon and 7pm for regular newscasts… which also spend a lot of time talking about soccer. In short, I’ve never been a soccer fan, but that’s not an option in Costa Rica, and I wouldn’t want it to be.

For every game up until this weekend, I have been, like everyone else in the country, glued to a tv somewhere watching the sele, the Costa Rican national team, overpower opponents with their passion and drive. (We’ve been let out of class two hours early to watch games twice now.) Sunday, though, when the sele was playing in the first round of knockout play, I was traveling back from the beach and didn’t get to watch the end of the game. Fortunately, a woman on the bus was following the game on her phone and keeping us update until finally–


Abrupt screaming so loud and impassioned it woke up anyone who thought to rest on the three hour bus ride back to San José… which ended up turning into four hours because the streets in every town we passed through were overflowing with people celebrating, dancing, yelling, hanging out of car windows and sunroofs, wearing jerseys, waving giant flags, blowing horns and whistles, piled by the dozen in the back of pickups doing the same. I would say I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’ve gotten to see it three times now.

Universidad Latina after Costa Rica's first World Cup win since 2002.
Universidad Latina Heredia after Costa Rica’s first World Cup win since 2002.
San José following Costa Rica’s win over Greece in the first round of knoockout play. (Courtesy of BBC Latin America)

I should know about nationalism, right? I’m from America. Land of the free and home of the brave… right?

There’s a reason Costa Rica is consistently ranked the happiest country in the world, and it’s more than just the pretty beaches and peaceful international policies: This country is filled with the most passionate people I have ever encountered in my 20 years of life. I can’t think of any event to which the American population’s response would be even half as intense. Tears stream down the painted faces of men and women, everyone owns a Costa Rican flag, and it’s nearly impossible to travel anywhere or get to sleep for about 12 hours after a game is over because the celebrations in the streets seriously last that long, and something as seemingly trivial as fútbol can elicit that from an entire nation.

You really don’t know what nationalism means until you see what it means to another country, and let me tell you–it’s beautiful.

To read more about my study abroad experience, visit my bilingual blog here.

¡Vamos sele! y ¡Pura vida!


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