By CAROLINE CORNISH
A core component of any American college student experience is participating in the mayhem and mania of college sports, expressed by the fans themselves. The tradition of tailgating is ubiquitous across college campuses in the country, especially common in state schools with a dedicated football team. NC State students display their school pride by dressing in all red, cowboy boots, and preparing for the typical tailgate with all its accoutrements; food, cornhole, and footballs.
The UPP at NCSU always aims for our students to experience something new they may not have chosen to try on their own. Both tailgating before and attending a college game certainly fits the bill, as most Chinese international students attending a university have zero exposure to American football in their first year. UPP staff wanted to provide some context on the background of this sport and the dedication that fans across the country express for their team to connect the groups. In our UPP seminar the week of the game, the game’s essentials were covered, such as explaining the role of the quarterback, and presenting the basic rules. Videos and readings were analyzed to inform students about the country’s wildest fans, from LA to New York. In class we also explored the risks posed by the sport to the players such as the risk of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), and opened the door to future discussions on political controversies surrounding the sport (think Kaepernick).
Each year UPP curriculum designers must deliberate what content to focus on given the plethora of important topics surrounding American culture in an effort to support students. Of all of the things students should learn on American culture, why football? Thor Duryea, one of UPP’s core curriculum designers, explains the reasoning behind this choice of content, “American sports, especially football, are a great way for the students to get connected to the community. Through learning about American sports and attending events related around them, students get a chance to connect with the community and feel like they have a sense of place in NC State and Raleigh.”
Prepping the students with football knowledge, discussing and contextualizing the intensity and dedication of football fans, and inviting students to the game and preparing a special tailgate for them, makes entering into the domain of fandom a little less intimidating. Thor says, “We want to prepare for students for what they’re going to experience and help them understand parts of the culture that may be different than what they’re used to.” Students were prepared, and were excited to check out the game–over a third of our entire cohort managed to get a ticket and come to our tailgating, annihilating our tailgate’s section of wings and fruit salad. The hummus and guacamole was, unfortunately, rather neglected. The heat posed an issue for some students, and bag restrictions were not well-communicated to those before the game. However, most had a positive attitude, and could not help but join in on the excitement as the atmosphere hummed with exuberant fans. Li Mo, or Molly for her American name, recalls “The game and the tailgate was great. I have never really experienced something like this. At first it was really difficult to go because it was hot and our bags were too big, but seeing all of the cheerleaders and all of the crazy fans made me happy. Even I don’t know anything about football I got really excited.”
Understanding the rules of the game proved not to be an issue as UPP teachers predicted. Simply being present in the mayhem was enough to ingratiate them into the NC State community. Another engaged student named Cecilia reflected on the experience, “During the football game I tried to shouted for our team. In China I’ve never watched a sport game with such excitement. And also the beautiful color with red and white also encouraged me and all people there. I could see their passion for football with the shouting slogans. The fans of NC State are always crazy about football events. Maybe in some Chinese students’ opinion, their behaviors seems stupid and embarrassing, but they just encourage athletes and be crazy about the big event happened in NC State. In china I never went to a sport game so it is the first time I feel about how sports’ fans crazy are.”
Students may not have left the stadium after this game understanding what they saw, but they tried, and all with an open mind and positive attitude. Encouraging a growth mindset and peaking curiosity surrounding college and Raleigh traditions is a top goal at the UPP; it warmed all the hearts of fellow UPP staff to see so many take a chance on an event they knew so little about. Risking their light skin in the hot heat, attending a game whose rules they barely understood, and trying new foods all showed the UPP how much growth can be achieved in such a short time from students. We look forward to future events encouraging a team spirit, and encourage all to feel more connected to their community. Sports afterall are an introduction to the family that you opt into, something so very American that now our students have had a taste of. After all, before they are international students they are students of NC State University.