This post is by Shamira (Amherst)
Ultimate frisbee may not be the most popular sport in the world, but its players are certainly some of the most passionate about what they do. I have been playing (and loving) ultimate frisbee for about two and a half years now, so the opportunity to play was, without a doubt, one of my main considerations in deciding where to study abroad. Ultimate remains a young sport in most of Europe and especially in Portugal - I've been told only about a hundred people play it in the entire country. I have to admit I was initially pretty discouraged by this statistic, but as my years of ultimate had been confined to natural grass, with the occasional turf field or indoor court, the lure of playing on the beach (as everyone does in Portugal) was just too enticing to turn down.
I emailed a team in Lisbon before I even flew in and went to my first practice here the very night that my plane touched down - it felt absolutely surreal to be playing ultimate on the beach before I could speak any Portuguese or even figure out my way back home. I definitely did not know what to expect, but I was welcomed with open arms (and not to mention, several kisses on the cheeks). They surprised me with their stellar English and taught me 'the most important phrase I had to know in Portuguese' - "quero uma cerveja", which means "I want a beer". By the end of the night, I was part of not just a team, but an entire family.
Less than two weeks after this first encounter, I found myself going to a tournament with this funky bunch in the middle-of-nowhere town of Juzbado, Salamanca. The idea of enduring an 8 hour drive, crossing a national border into a country I had never been in, and spending an entire weekend with people I had not met more than twice before was entirely unnerving. Needless to say, I kept worrying about how miserable the weekend could turn out to be, and it certainly did not help that the weather forecast was rain, rain and more rain. But I’ve learned that you never go wrong with ultimate – I dare say that I had one of the best weekends on my life, complete with a Spanish fiesta of live performances and conga lines. And the whole time I didn’t understand a word of Spanish.
Sometimes, a common love is all you need. While a college ultimate team is a collection of more or less similar individuals - all trying to balance a plethora of classes and commitments without skipping out on the fun of being young - the ultimate scene in Portugal is truly one that transcends all differences – age, physique, distance and social circles. Everyone shows up at the beach, week after week, some driving a whole hour to get there, simply for the love of the game. Lisbon may have lured me in with its spectacular scenery, but it is nothing without the spirit of its people.
Last week, I had my second tournament in Guimarães, a beautifully historical town in the North of Portugal, and in two weeks, I will be off to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, for yet another. Before coming here, I was honestly expecting to find nothing more than a group of acquaintances that I could casually play a game or two of ultimate with, but I found so much more, and I’m very thankful that I did.