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The chance to play

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I was very nervous to come to the meet-and-greet barbecue at Oosterpark. But as soon as I saw friends-to-be with beers in hand, heard some sweet music and spotted discs flying through the air, I thought, "Oh yeah, this team is legit!"

Fall semester junior year, I studied abroad at the University of Amsterdam. Before even applying to the program, I sought out the student-club ultimate Frisbee team online. Thank goodness I found them, because I knew establishing a regular ultimate outlet would help with adjusting to life in a new country.

The first practice brought waves of relief into my anxiety-filled (and now dreamlike) orientation. The same old quirky lingo—"UP!" and "Look at your dump" and "Don't get broken!"—applied here as at home. Most people wore cleats, and it seemed like everyone was sporting tournament gear. After comfortingly familiar drills, I couldn't believe it when someone started a game of ninja, a consulted game away from the game of ultimate. The country might be different, but the culture of ultimate seems to be universal.

Of course, there are subtle differences between my experiences playing in the United States and the Netherlands. These divides manifested themselves a little bit each training session, but I learned the most blatant difference at my first competition. Especially with my own Occidental College women's team, the post-game exchange with the opponent is very important. Each team is expected to make up a cheer on the spot based on the other's name. This is where teams can show their creativity and spirit. My team has received a range of cheers, from "Oxy is foxy!" (boring) to a team that somehow rhymed "lose" with "boobs." Then, well, they flashed us.

After high-fiving and good-gaming at the close of my first official game in the Netherlands, I prepared for the usual brainstorming session of cheers. But no one gathered for such. "We aren't doing that?" I thought. "Where's the spirit?" I blindly followed my fellow Nuts teammates into a strange ritual involving a smelly huddle with the other team, complete with more high-fiving and good-gaming within concentric circles. The spokesperson of each team proceeded to recap not just the good aspect of the game but also the bad and the ugly, holding true to stereotypes about Dutch honesty. The experience—a careful mix of tact and bluntness—was as intimate, affirming and spirited. Despite my initial confusion and doubts, I quickly grew to appreciate and look forward to this new custom. In the U.S. and the Netherlands, the post-game traditions, however different they may be, have the same intention: Teams just want to convey to their opponents that, ultimately, we are all in love with the game of ultimate and grateful for anyone who contributes to the chance to play.

So, bedankt. Or thanks, Nuts!

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