Youth and Sports Team Up for Cross-Cultural Connections

Posted by Lallie Lukens
July 30, 2010
A Hand Grips a Basketball

About the Author: Lallie Lukens serves as an intern with the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues.

As English and Arabic echoed in the gym, I immediately noticed the delegation of 12 young Egyptian basketball players -- six boys and six girls, ages 15 to 17 -- engaging with future basketball stars less than half their height. This delegation was hosted by the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs' SportsUnited office for a two week sports visitors program. The delegation learned about sports in the United States, as well as our educational system, technical sports training, and American culture. I had the privilege of joining the athletes at the Washington Mystics' camp, the Women's National Basketball Association team based in Washington, D.C.

Language barriers didn't prevent the Egyptian athletes from chatting and playing with the children who were running in circles around them at the Mystics' Camp. After a warm-up, the players split into four groups and went to different baskets to work on some basic skills. As the bench warmer of my high school team, I was in awe of the skills all the young athletes possessed. I was especially humbled by a young girl standing no more than two-foot-five, who sunk more shots than I ever have.

After two hours of camp activities, it was time for a break, and I was finally able to talk to the six girls in the group. I learned about the rigorous and long process that brought them to the Sports Visitor Program after various tryouts. While many had played each other over the years before they met for this trip to Washington, DC, others were meeting for the first time.

The coach's blaring whistle signaled the end of the break sooner than I had hoped. I resumed my position on the bleachers and continued observing, fascinated by the players' ability to sink reverse layups, hook shots, and even fancy layups. The players' passion and energy made me want to run onto the court, but, after recalling memories from my last basketball season, I decided to spare myself the embarrassment.

During the final scrimmage, I chatted with the girls who weren't on the court about their interests outside basketball. As it turns out, we teenage girls are very similar -- we all love romance novels and movies, listen to the same music, and watch the same TV shows. One of the girls was a fellow “Gleek,” which is someone who is obsessed with the television show Glee, and another was a Twilight fanatic. Their favorite activity so far in the United States was a visit to the local mall. A close second was touring the Lincoln Memorial and the other national monuments.

I was sad to walk out of the gym that day, knowing I had to say goodbye to the impressive Egyptian athletes. Although our time together was brief, I discovered that just belonging to the same generation was enough for us to have common interests despite our different cultures, and that the well of discussion topics would never run dry. It was an honor to have met these young Egyptian future leaders, and I am confident we will maintain our new friendships for a long time. After all, it's now Facebook-official.

For more information on SportsUnited, please visit their website.

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