By Logan Wells ’15
Walk down the streets of Santiago, Chile — or anywhere else in the sub-equatorial South American nation — and you’re likely to find someone, somewhere playing soccer, or what the Chileans call fútbol. It’s not just a national pastime; the people take it as seriously as Texans do their version of the game.
Joaquín Acuña, Rodrigo Vargas and Vicente Muñoz-Pena come from the capital city where they have been friends and teammates for years. They learned about Hanover from an administrator at an international athletic recruiting program who knew the College’s coach, Matt Wilkerson, and was able to make the connection.
Many emails and Skype phone calls later, Wilkerson convinced the three young players to travel more than 5,000 miles from their homes and join the men’s soccer team.
“At first, it happened on an individual level,” said Vargas, who had spent a year of high school as an exchange student in Alaska, “but then when we all saw that (the others) were coming, there was support between us to do it together.”
“We (also) wanted to play at a good level and study at a good level,” added Acuna, who was the first to make the decision to attend Hanover and the only one who hadn’t previously lived abroad. Muñoz-Pena had spent seven years in Surrey, U.K.
So far, the transition to American life has been overwhelmingly positive for all three.
“I like everything,” said Muñoz-Pena. “In Chile, we don’t have these (kinds of) surroundings.”
“The culture of the college itself is very different. Here everyone lives together and campus is beautiful,” added Acuña.
One of the cultural differences they learned about quickly was in the way people greet each other. In Chile, it is common for people to greet women with a kiss on the cheek. Acuña said it didn’t take him long to hear the words, “you don’t do that here.”
Early mealtimes are another thing the three have had to get used to, but despite these minor challenges, they feel very comfortable in their new environment. Part of the reason is the friendship their American counterparts have shown.
“There was a possibility that (the team and others) could have been mean, but they’re all so nice,” said Vargas. “They show interest and respect.”
They’ve also had to adjust the American style of soccer.
In Chile, you’re only allowed three substitutions per game,” explained Wilkerson. “At a certain point in the game the players settle down. Here, when someone gets tired, you just put in a new player.”
“The game is much more physical,” said Muñoz-Pena. “Players in Chile are more technical and the game is faster.”
Wilkerson said his players are adapting quickly to the differences between the two styles of play, and noted that any adjustments they’d have to make were similar to those faced by any first-year student. In turn, Vargas, Acuña and Muñoz-Pena have brought traits for his American players to emulate.
“I think (the Chileans) have good passion for the game,” he said before joking. “I want it to rub off on the other guys.”
Though the transition between high school and college has gone fairly smoothly so far, the teammates know this is only the beginning.
“We haven’t lived the hardest part yet,” said Acuña. “All the support of friends and family we had in Chile is gone, and we have to face things on our own, but this is what we all wanted.”
Sophomore Logan Wells is in the Business Scholars Program and runs both cross country and track.
Published Monday, September 17, 2012