Every four years, the world’s best soccer players put their long-awaited summer vacations to the side and take part in the most fervently followed and watched sporting tournament in the world, the FIFA World Cup.
It’s a grueling and unforgiving tournament that has built and cemented legacies, while also tearing them down. Many players’ failures and mishaps follow them and sometimes even define them long after their boots are hung up. In other words, it’s an experience unlike any other.
It’s an experience that University of Arizona assistant professor in Russian/Slavic Studies Benjamin Jens and a handful of students who are in the UA’s World Soccer study abroad program got to take part in. This year, they took a trip to Russia, the host country of the 2018 World Cup. The program is based in the College of Humanities, so yes, this is an actual course on campus (HUMS 376).
While in Russia, the group tasted the live atmosphere of a FIFA match, watching the Iran vs Morocco Group Stage game.
“It was a great experience, even from the upper rows of the stadium,” Jens said. “Just being in the crowds on the metro on the way to the game, as all the fans were chanting, singing, jumping. It was a great build up, and they never seemed to stop once the game started.”
Jens and his students also got to experience the buzz that Russia possessed being a host nation. They got to watch the opening match of the tournament, Russia vs Saudi Arabia, with the locals in Moscow, which saw the Russians win by five goals, setting off a nationwide celebration.
“I think at the start we were all hoping Russia would win a game or two, but no one — not even the Russians — expected the team to go very far,” Jens said.
Russia kept winning, making it into the quarterfinals, keeping the party going for UA’s group to witness.
“I think having Russia do so well helped the program as well, as it meant the overall interest in the games and the energy in Moscow was at a high level throughout our stay,” Jens said.
Even though seeing the soccer being played all across Russia was exciting, the legendary tournament was a distant second to Jens.
“I’d have to say my favorite experience this year has just been seeing the students have an enjoyable time in Russia and put their humanities skills to use as they personally engaged with the people and culture,” Jens said.
As the tournament and trip came to a close, this is for certain — nobody in Russia this summer is going to forget what they experienced.
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