Name: Kelsi Brooks
Hometown: Boulder, CO
Varsity sports participated in: Women’s Soccer (3 Seasons- 2010-2012), Indoor/Outdoor Track & Field (1 season)
Study abroad semester and location: Spring 2013 in Chile
What was your favorite place in your host city/country?
The path I walked along from my rural home stay family to the local hospital in the Makewe community of Temuco became one of my favorite places. During my walks, I’d pack my backpack full of the crispest apples from the apple trees along the side of the path and greet others in the community by saying “Mari, Mari” (a deeper expression of ‘hi’ in Mapugundun, the local language of the Mapuche community). With a diet of bread, fried bread, tortilla bread, kofka bread, winka bread, and pasta, the apple trees became a necessity! On this path, apples went from being one of my least favorite fruits to one of my favorite foods.
What was your proudest/most exciting moment abroad?
All my memories are ‘the most exciting.’ So, I’m going to tell you about the first time I saw a vicuña, a wild South American camel-like animal. It was definitely a highlight. We were on our way up to Putre at an elevation of 11,500 feet while chewing coca leaves when we encountered a graceful, fragile, deer-like herd of vicuñas. They were beautiful and made my experience of being in South America feel more real. It’s awesome what a little animal can do.
How did your identity as an athlete influence your experiences abroad?
My knowledge and enjoyment of soccer was a shared interest with Chileans (especially the men and boys), and furthered my connection with people and the soccer-passionate culture of Chile. I played soccer with my 11-year-old host brother, with the women’s team of the University of Tarapacá, and I watched and celebrated with Chileans as we watched World Cup soccer matches. Additionally, my athletic identity was a very important form of female empowerment for my friend (who plays soccer at Tufts University) and me. Our soccer skills and abilities wiped the smirks and chuckles off the faces of men in the Makewe community who would explain to us that soccer is a men’s sport. Playing soccer in Chile was one of my expressions of female ability and athleticism.
Has the time you spent abroad changed the way you think about your athletic experience or your sport in general?
I realized that being a female athlete has a certain power and privilege in South America. The female sports’ programs are not as developed, funded or strong as the men’s sports’ programs in Chile. This factor, in addition, to the culture of machismo (a male’s expression of superiority over women) diminishes the opportunities that Chilean women have to become female athletes. I never realized that my athletic identity is so intertwined with my gender identity.
Some words of advice for other athletes who want to study abroad:
This is your college experience and the opportunity to go abroad is waiting! When you go abroad go without expectations, because your experience is likely to take you in directions you would never expect, as long as you have an open mind.