What three objects would you use to describe American culture to people who have never been here?
The grass brushed against my ankles and my backpack bounced with each step as I walked through the field. Through my sunglasses, I looked towards kids playing what I knew was soccer. With my school, I had traveled to Haiti over Christmas break. Although we spent a couple days in various cities on cultural excursions, my favorite place so far had to be the orphanage. Heat, metal roofs, long grass–and a feeling of life.
The group kicked the soccer ball towards us as an invitation to join the game, and a couple of the guys started playing right away. I stayed near the sidelines under a metal-roofed dugout with some of the others. I preferred football, which my dad had first started teaching me when I was about ten. My favorite thing about football was the culture surrounding it. Almost everybody in my town was familiar with the basics and nobody I knew made it through Super Bowl season without getting pulled in to all the excitement. Suddenly, the soccer ball came soaring towards me, landing on the metal roof, where something sharp must have popped it. When the Haitian teenagers ran over, they looked upset to see their ball destroyed.
I had an idea. I unzipped my backpack and pulled out my football.
At first, they were confused by the sport, but we Americans were able to show them how to play and they picked it up quickly. I ran back to the sidelines, where some of the younger orphans had come to watch. I sat down next to two of them with my bag. As I pulled out my water bottle, my red Santa hat came too. The little boy picked it up and pulled it onto his head. I called over one of the guides to help translate for me. I explained to the little boy who Santa Claus was and told him that in America, almost everybody celebrates Christmas with Santa Claus and that the Holiday season there is truly spectacular.
Finally, from inside my backpack, I pulled out my charcoal pencils and began a sketch of the guys playing football. The little girl next to me kept looking over, so I handed her a piece of paper and a pencil as well. Together, we spent time immersed in one of my favorite hobbies, drawing. I had the guide translate to her that I have been drawing since I was about her age and that I do it almost all the time now. Yet before I knew it, it was time to go. One of the Haitian teenagers ran over with my football, but I looked at him and smiled, signaling for him to just keep it. I did the same for the little boy with my Santa hat and the girl with one of my charcoal pencils. While all of these things mattered to me, I liked knowing that I had been able to share a little bit of myself and my country’s culture with these kids. Seeing them smile was more important than going home with everything I had brought.