“Pallone è vita!” yelled Umbra Institute student Christian Sbarro as he dribbled a basketball past Italians down the courts in Piazza Grimana on sunny Saturday, ready to score.
Ball is life.
July 5-7, Sbarro and his classmates Billy Grayson and Chris DiLisio participated in an international basketball tournament, Playground Therapy. Over the hot weekend, the three Intensive Italian students took a break from reciting lines by Dante and studying for this week’s final oral presentations to play ball in the shady courts across the street from the University for Foreigners.
Organized by Perugia residents Gabriele Burlarelli and Alessandro Contu, the tournament comprised 10-12 teams with players from around the world. The only requirement to enter was a willingness to play. Although dubbed “Team U.S.A.” – by an Italian teammate – the Umbra students’ team also included a Canadian, a pair of Australians, and several Italians.
“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Grayson. “I played with people I’d seen around Perugia since I’ve been here, and we actually got to hang out. It really gave me perspective, seeing so many different cultures getting to know each other through just playing a sport together, even if we could barely say, ‘Hi,’ in the beginning.”
The Umbra students’ interaction with members of their community in an activity outside of the Institute fulfills the goal of the Community Engagement program, according to Umbra the program co-coordinator, Julie Falk.
“Community engagement is all about immersing students in the Italian context both in and out of the classroom,” Falk said. “They learn not only about the Italian culture but also become more aware of their own. Perugia offers the perfect place for this type of integration into the community. It’s filled with opportunities to collaborate with other organizations, non-profits, schools, and businesses, which helps move students beyond a tourist-style study abroad experience.”
The students agreed that the experience accomplished exactly that.
“It was cool to interact with a lot of Italians outside of the classroom and learn Italian in a new setting,” Sbarro said.
DiLisio added, “We made friends that we hung out with through the weekend, people from China, people from France, Brazil, Italy – it was great.”
As the tournament progressed, a DJ and live bands took turns adding a soundtrack to the basketball games, which the students agreed were more fast-paced than in the U.S.
“The style of play was pretty different,” observed Sbarro, who is on the team of his home institution, Connecticut College. “The courts are different, and they call more fouls – much more fouls.”
At the end of the tournament, Team U.S.A. had won two games and lost two – all around, not a bad tally, according to DiLisio.
“The team just jived,” he said. “We had great potential … though in the end we fell short. It was an unforgettable weekend anyway.”