Today marks the beginning of baseball season in the United States. Major League teams across the country are stepping up to the plate and playing their first regular season games of the year, and for many Americans that crack of the ball hitting the bat is the true herald of spring.
Luckily, Americans aren’t the only ones basking in the sunshine during baseball season -- they’re also sharing this time-honored tradition with new friends from around the world through exchange programs. In honor of Opening Day, here are some stories of how America’s favorite pastime has impacted exchange participants and broadened their understanding of American culture and values:
Bringing Host Families Closer Together
“The day that my host family and I went to Fenway Park is a memorable one for me. My host mother is a strong Red Sox fan, a family legacy that was passed down to her from her father. So, one of the first things we did was go to a Red Sox home game,” says Tunc Yavuz, a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) exchange alumnus from Turkey. “Even today, I keep up with the game on a daily basis by watching game recaps, and I chat regularly with my host mom about the team and players. Next summer, I will be going back to attend my host sister’s wedding, and as soon as I know the dates of my arrival and departure, she will make sure we are going to a game.”
Random Acts of Kindness
When European International Visitor Leadership Program participants attended their first Iowa Cubs game in Des Moines, they realized it was another way to learn the language. By the fifth inning, they could talk hits, runs, strikes, and balls. By the seventh inning stretch, they were ready to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game!”
One of the stadium ushers learned that it was the group's first time ever experiencing a baseball game, and presented each participant with a ball to take home as a souvenir. Needless to say, they were thrilled and that act of simple kindness made their day.
For Giao Nguyen, Vietnam, a Professional Fellow with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, cheering on the Washington Nationals turned into a positive experience he felt inspired to share with his home country.
“The very first time I enjoy baseball game is also the lucky time for Washington Nationals team. They beat Philadelphia Phillies 6-4 on Saturday night with 2 home run(s),” he said. “I also received a very special gift from my host family. It is the Nationals team t-shirt. My host father caught it as soon as the cheerleader threw it to my stand. That's (a) wonderful day.”
For Mara Ambruoso, an au pair from Italy, baseball has become her favorite sport, thanks to her host family.
“In my host family, we are super fans of the Giants baseball team! … My host dad and host kid are totally crazy about it! When the season starts we watch every game, we attend a lot of (them) and we have plenty of team t-shirts!” she says.
“My two-year-old host kid knows more baseball players than animals! Go Giants!”
Forming Lifelong Friendships Through Sports
Grzegorz Jankiewicz, an alumnus of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program from Poland, didn’t know much about baseball before becoming a part of his host community in Fairview, Illinois.
“I decided to try baseball mostly because it’s something we do not have in Europe, or it’s not really popular. It turned out that practicing baseball was one of the best things I did during my exchange year. Because of baseball, I’ve met many new people who were my best friends in America. … Even after the season was over I was still meeting with my friends to play some baseball.”
Are you an international exchange student, professional or scholar who discovered American baseball while spending time in the United States? Share your story with us on social media by using the hashtag #ExchangeOurWorld!
About the Author: Becca Bycott serves as a Senior Social Media Community Manager with the Public Affairs and Strategic Communications team in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.