Embracing the Universal Language of Sport

a well-known picture to all Canadians (thanks canadianmusichalloffame.ca)

Most, if not all nations, have that one sport that brings entire communities together.  If you’re Canadian like me, you know that hockey defines who we are as a people.  If you travel to my country, find any local pub in the middle of winter or any street after a major Canadian hockey match and you will find yourself in the midst of an inexplainable cultural phenomenon – the love that all Canadians have for the sport on ice!

And we know that what hockey is for Canada, football, cricket, yoga, muay thai, rugby…are for others.

If you want to experience culture in a quick, fun, and healthy way, get to know the local sport.  And embrace it! 

Maybe this means watching a local team play a match.

Maybe this means sitting at a pub cheering on the local team.

Maybe this means actually participating in the sport.

Sport is a universal language.  The right for children to play is a major feature of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child because it’s recognized as an important means for children to grow, develop, and learn skills of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and health, that they can take throughout their whole lives.

This means that wherever you travel, wherever your journey takes you, sport is a great way to bond with locals and get to know more about their culture.


Do your research! Find out when local matches are happening and where good spots are for viewing.  Ask your hotel, in shops, etc.  Some of my most fun traveling times have been outside little food joints in Tanzania or Zambia joining in as people crowd around the radio listening to a football match. 

Soccer or football....called football in this post, but I grew up calling it something different :)
Soccer or football….called football in this post, but I grew up calling it something different 🙂 (thanks thelittleactivitychest.com)

2) Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to watch local competitions.  Sometimes all it takes is a walk down the street and suddenly you find yourself in the throes of a game.  Be the spectator for a while and you may eventually get invited to play (depending on your fitness level).

3) Initiate conversations about sport.  Doing your homework (via even a simple google search) before travelling to the country, you can get to know the sport of choice before you go.  When you arrive, read newspapers, find some basic knowledge about recent matches, and use this to start conversations with community members.  Talking about the big game or match can ignite into an awesome conversation.

4) Join a house league.  Depending on how much time you have in your destination, joining a house league is a great way to make some local friends and stay active.  Community boards, churches or mosques, and hostels (even if you’re not staying there) are great places to find out about local sports leagues.

5) Try something once.  In my next post I’ll be discussing Yoga in Kata Bay, Thailand.  I wasn’t in the country long enough to actually join a league, but I was there long enough to attend a couple of yoga classes, meet some locals, and embrace some new things about Thai culture…all while making my trip a little bit healthier.

6) Exercise on your own…but don’t use an ear piece!  From attending a local gym to running around the neighbourhood, showing that you are involved in an exercise can sometimes invite people to talk to you.  I was very diligent with running in Tanzania and struck of many conversations with locals who were interested in my mazuwezi (exercise).  Just by going out and being active, people became curious about me, inviting conversation.  Going to a local gym, rather than your hotel gym, can lead to instant conversations with people from the community also trying to stay in shape.  Just make sure that you aren’t using your earphones so that people feel like they can engage you in conversation!  And for safety remember to change your route and times if you’re running.

sorry, but it's better if you say 'no' to the phone (thanks for the pic, redbubble.com)
sorry, but it’s better if you say ‘no’ to the phone (thanks for the pic, redbubble.com)

So go out, be active, and embrace the universal language of sport!  It will not only keep you healthier while on your vacation, but also lead you to new conversations, opportunities, and exchanges with locals.

And as an added bonus, exercise is a proven way to alleviate the symptoms of culture shock!

So get active, get travelling, get experiencing!

Enjoy your travels,



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