International students reflect on the significance of the World Cup
Watching the World Cup away from home for the first time has been difficult for many international students at Yale. However, it has also forged new bonds as fans root for their native countries to bring it home.
Rhett Lewis on Unsplash
The 2022 FIFA World Cup carries broad significance for students across the Yale community: a chance to watch renowned athletes compete at their highest level, connect with their home countries, celebrate diversity and entertain the bitterest of rivalries with their closest peers.
The News spoke with international students studying at Yale about their experiences watching the World Cup away from their native countries. While many described feeling isolated — underscoring their distance from home — others described it as an opportunity to cherish and share their cultural pride with friends.
“Once your team gets eliminated, you just start to root for whoever your friends are rooting for,” Maria Giacoman ’25, who is from Mexico, told the News. “You become a part of their community too. Like I was Brazilian last Friday, and I’m gonna be Brazilian tomorrow, too.”
The World Cup, hosted every four years in a different country, provides 32 qualifying national teams with an opportunity to represent their respective countries. This World Cup — hosted in Qatar — is the first one being hosted in the Middle East since the initial tournament in 1930.
“People often hold prejudices and misconceptions against the Middle East and hosting the World Cup in the region opens it up to tourism and for people to learn what this part of the world is like,” Moroccan student Laila Delpuppo Messari ’25 told the News. “It allows many preconceptions to be deconstructed.”
While playing host to the event offers Qatar with a great opportunity to demonstrate its growth, the event has not been without controversy.
According to The Guardian, around 6,500 migrant workers died in the process of constructing stadiums and infrastructure for the event. Moreover, homosexuality is illegal in the host nation, and some discourse has centered around teams’ protests of their hosts’ legal codes.
During the tournament, international fans have been told they can’t wear rainbow shirts and teams have faced punishment for “One Love” armbands. Khalid Salman, Qatar FIFA World Cup ambassador, said homosexuality is “damage in the mind,” in an interview with German television broadcaster ZDF.
“I think that there are also many human rights violations that occurred in the making of this World Cup and I sometimes struggle with the criticism, between it being justified and between it being overly harsh because of prejudices against the region,” Delpuppo Messari said.
On Saturday, the South Asian Society hosted a teach-in to address the World Cup controversies, especially the exploitation of workers.
At Yale, 22 percent of all University students – including Yale College and all Graduate Schools – are international, and a total of 115 countries are represented at large. Still many more students, though born and raised in the U.S., feel a strong sense of connection to cultures and nationalities outside of America.
“I feel like the World Cup is a celebration of diversity,” said Brazilian Joao Pedro Ferreira Denys ’25. “It is the one time every four years where very different countries that can never play together do, and they can share customs, culture and pretty much everything that matters to them — not only by players but also the people who support them. From every corner of the world, people manifest their national pride.”
However, since this World Cup is not running in the summer, students find themselves in a hard position when it comes to finding balance between watching their beloved competition and academics — especially as the semester comes to a close.
“I just can’t study before 4 p.m.,” Denys said. “I understand that there are more important things, but it’s such a big thing culturally that it actually distracts me from class — especially at the knockout stages.”
The November tournament date has also generated controversy because of the disruption it posed to professional players’ schedules. The date was moved from summer because of concerns around heat and humidity in Qatar.
All World Cup matches have taken place from 5:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET due to the time difference. This means they fall directly during most course hours.
Many students told the News that they were acutely aware of their distance from home while watching the World Cup at school. Students described a feeling of homesickness as they saw their friends at home participating in the fanfare via social media.
Noah Millard ’25, initially from Melbourne, Australia, described feeling isolated while seeing his friends celebrate Australia’s performance in the group stage, even though the Socceroos did not end up progressing beyond the Round of 16.
“I see all the highlights of my friends back home in Melbourne in their city, watching it and lighting flares and having a great time while I’m here in New Haven studying for exams,” Millard said.
However, some students still felt a connection to home despite the distance.
Millard told the News that getting to watch the games with fellow Australian students had been “really uniting,” and that it had brought him closer to the international community at Yale.
Unity was a common theme felt by students, regardless of their country’s performance in the Cup. Giacoman, originally from Monterrey, Mexico, told the News that she found herself mourning Mexico’s loss to Argentina while surrounded by fellow Mexican friends.
“I thought I was going to be by myself, so it didn’t feel as bad. It was like solidarity,” Giacoman said.
Lila Alloula ’25, originally from Paris, France, told the News that she was never particularly interested in watching the tournament at home. However, she explained that at Yale, she found herself keeping up with the tournament, as cheering for the French National Team was a key way to feel connected to friends and family still in France.
In addition to feeling closer with their respective national communities at Yale, many students felt as though the World Cup allowed them to connect with new people, as the tournament was so widely watched.
The World Cup has historically been the most widely watched sporting event in the world. FIFA recently announced that the 2022 Cup has generated record-breaking viewership internationally.
“I just feel like everyone from all over the world has something that is exactly the same to talk about and it’s super nice,” said Joe Long ’25, originally from the United Kingdom. “We can all sit down and spend two hours together watching a game, and it’s just super fun.”
Beyond watching matches, many students have found themselves distressed with the results, and have found little leniency from the Yale faculty.
Patricio Perez Elorza Arce ’25, originally from Mexico City, told the News that he had asked for a problem set extension from a professor after Mexico lost against Argentina in the knockout round, but that his professor had been unreceptive to the request.
“My professor didn’t understand the cultural hurt that I felt after a country didn’t make it out of the group stage,” Arce said. “He told me to do my homework.”
This year’s tournament has been marked by many unanticipated outcomes: an Argentine loss to Saudi Arabia in the group stage, a Japanese victory over Germany, and a 7–0 score in Spain’s first game of the tournament to name just a few. Students whose countries performed much worse or better than expected described their ensuing disappointment or excitement.
Delpuppo Messari told the News that she felt an overwhelming sense of pride for her national identity after watching Morocco perform so well – to the surprise of many commentators – in the World Cup. After topping second-seeded Belgium in the group stages, Morocco went on to upset seventh-ranked Spain in the Round of 16. Delpuppo Messari additionally commented on the significance of the Morocco-Spain outcome, which was determined during penalty kicks, given the colonial history between the two countries.
“The World Cup is something I’ve been watching since I was very little, and it is the most meaningful sporting event in the world for me,” Delpuppo Messari said. “Nothing compares to cheering for your country, wearing your jersey, strategizing what the next steps are and hoping to become champions.”
Christian Oestergaard ’25, who hails from Denmark, described feeling a strong sense of disappointment after Denmark lost to both Australia and Tunisia in the group stage. Denmark currently holds the 10th spot in FIFA’s men’s national teams rankings.
While this World Cup has marked disappointment for many in terms of their team’s performance, the pride students carry with them during the tournament transcends the athletic performance of their country’s athletes.
“The World Cup to me symbolizes passion, love, sporting excellence, conflict, resolution, tactics, performance, success, failure and everything in between,” Nick Stanger ’24, originally from the United Kingdom, said. “And I’m supporting England because it’s coming home.”
The World Cup will conclude on Dec. 18.