It was, given the circumstances, possibly the worst loss in the history of modern sports. You know the game we’re talking about- the 7-1 thrashing the Germans gave to Brazil in the World Cup semi-finals. Brazil, the host nation, was expected to win the Cup, or at least go down with honor. Instead, in a stunning, jaw-dropping, adjective-defying 3 minute span, the German squad crushed those dreams, scoring goal after goal. This wasn’t supposed to happen. No one loses that badly in soccer. Certainly not a fantastic Brazilian squad. It was arguably the most surprising result of any match in any sport ever (and Nate Silver crunched the numbers to back that up).

This led to some nation-wide despair. “Sad Brazilians” is already its own meme. The nation’s newspapers trumpeted “humiliation” in all its tragic glory.  And everywhere, we are told, they are in mourning- shocked, embarrassed, a global joke, an object of pity or derision.

But that’s kind of a strange concept. After all, ignoring that it was “just a game”, and ignoring that this will exacerbate the anger the country already felt about the cost of the Cup, it is deeply weird to think that the actions of 11 men could somehow transfer themselves to a nation of 200,000,000, imbuing them with either pride or despair. But we all believe strongly, if even unconsciously, in not just national characteristics, but the idea that a nation is somehow one, that it can be summed up- that it isn’t just a collection of people, but can feel and think one thought. This is an interesting thing to be aware of, and it matters more than you might think if your school has a large number of international students.

Sad

The sad face of a nation. Image from worldcupinf.com

Caring about country

In a way, something like the Brazil loss could be good for your international student. It helps them with the idea that Brazil is an actual place where people live, and that he or she cares about their country as much as any other student cares about America. The American students might not fully understand the passion, but after this World Cup, it is very possible they will.

It’s hard for anyone, especially teens, to understand someone else’s patriotism. A lot of Americans think that is an American concept, and are unsure how people relate to their own country. It is difficult to really grasp anyone’s inner life, the geography of their personality, and doubly-difficult to imagine them thinking about home, about their land, their complicated and ambiguous and deeply proud and ferociously angry feelings. Their connection and their loyalty.

But seeing something like this- where there is genuine despair- makes it more relatable. Brazil is home, a country to care about, and not just a place from which they traveled to get to America. It’s the center of their personal map, and ingrained in their heart. Now, granted, a victory might have also done the same thing, but we don’t need to go down that road.

The other side

Of course, though, it wasn’t a victory. It was a loss seen by the entire world. People who didn’t watch it knew all about it. It was the most Tweeted event in the history of Twitter- more than any election, any event, anything. Everyone knows that Brazil was destroyed. There have been a huge number of thinkpieces about “what it all means.”  Probably the best is this one  in Deadspin by Tim Marchman, summing up the relative importance and unimportance of sports.

That’s where national characteristics come in. It will be easy, if you have Brazilian students, for them to be objects of mild derision. A loser country, full of humiliation. The worst performance ever. People, unfortunately, assign the characteristics of a few too many, and base their impressions off things only half-understood. It’s normal, especially for teenagers, to do this.

So as an administrator you have to be aware of this, and make sure that you don’t allow a student to be made an object of derision simply because his team lost a game. Mild ribbing is fine- that’s part of sports. But at any point, you have to teach the lesson that the student is not Brazil, and that Brazil’s team isn’t a stand-in for his or her personality, much less that an entire country.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik uses the loss the talk about the danger of “national humiliation,” as a concept, and I think that is relevant here. We want to believe that we all share emotions, that we can rise or fall based on the decisions of a few, and we think the same about other countries. Using this horrible defeat to teach your students the difference between nation and individual, and the complicated relationship between the two, will be a helpful lesson throughout the year, and their lives.

 

The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.