Soccer Around the World

On Semester at Sea, my friends and I were given the rare opportunity to briefly sample a number of different countries around the world in a very short period of time.  Although we sacrificed the ability to really immerse ourselves into any one culture, we were able to make surface level observations in a startling variety of countries, ecosystems, and cultures.  By traveling with a lot of the same people in these different countries, I started getting interested in and noticing things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, things that my friends were interested in.  One of the coolest things that I started noticing in the different countries we visited was the apparently universal love of soccer.  My friend Michael Collett loves the sport, and would never miss an opportunity to play with people when he got the chance.  Although initially uninterested,* I quickly started noticing that soccer was everywhere, no matter where we went.  The language of soccer had no barriers, at least not that I could see.  If they both spoke English or Spanish, then Michael could talk to them about their favorite teams or players, and inexplicably everybody seemed to know exactly what he was talking about.  If they didn’t speak English, then they would just play.  Here are just some of my favorite pictures of soccer from around the world.

Michael Collett playing soccer football outside of Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca Morocco on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

My buddy Michael Collett playing soccer with a group of guys right outside the world-famous Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.

The first time I really started getting the opportunity to see people playing soccer was in Vietnam, and then it was only very briefly, as we quickly drove by in a bus.  This was one of the first times that my attention had been grabbed by the sport, as there hadn’t many chances before that to see anyone play.

People between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam playing soccer football as viewed from the windows of a bus on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

I took this picture somewhere between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, which was the only picture I got of people playing soccer in Vietnam.

By the time we reached Myanmar, I had heard Michael talk about the sport a lot in the month and a half that I had known him, and even though I didn’t understand who or what he was talking about most of the time, I listened politely (he had to suffer far worse whenever someone brought up the topic of dinosaurs, so I really owed it to him).

Michael Collett practices juggling a soccer ball football on the MV World Odyssey MS Deutschland Deck 7 Kommodore Deck outside on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

Michael practices juggling outside on Deck 7.

In Ngwe Saung, Myanmar, we visited a school for a morning,** which was where I really started to pay attention to the apparently universal appeal of soccer.  When we arrived at the school, a number of the kids were playing soccer, and several Semester at Sea students promptly joined them.  Even after the full game had wrapped up, there were still a number of people that had broken off and were juggling the ball between them in smaller groups.

Burmese students playing football soccer in Ngwe Saung Myanmar on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

A group of the school kids playing soccer when we first arrived.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself so I stayed on the sidelines and watched, they were all really good.  After my struggles with a longyi the day before, I thought that they might prove to be a hindrance, but they didn’t seem to hold them back at all.

Burmese students playing soccer football in Ngwe Saung Myanmar on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

Burmese students playing soccer football with Meghan Adams and Ashley O'Rourke in Ngwe Saung Myanmar on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

Meghan Adams and Ashley O’Rourke juggling a soccer ball with a few of the girls.  The girl in the yellow was really, really good, better than most, if not all, of the boys that had been playing earlier.

I didn’t really see much more soccer until we got to South Africa.  On the very first day, Michael had I had a great view of Cape Town Stadium, which was constructed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town South Africa on Semester at Sea with Michael Collett Photo Credit Zack Neher

The Cape Town Stadium, constructed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.

In Ghana, my friends and I visited Kokrobite Beach near Accra, Ghana.  It didn’t take more than five minutes after Michael pulled a soccer ball out of his bag for an impromptu game to get started.  The game had died off by the time I had come back from exploring, so I just kicked the ball around with one of the kids who was playing nearby.  Five minutes later, people from all over the beach had appeared to play in another game!

Michael Collett playing soccer football on Kokrobite Beach in Accra Ghana on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

Michael starts kicking the ball with one guy right when we arrived at Kokrobite Beach….

Michael Collett playing soccer football at Kokrobite Beach in Accra Ghana with Meredith Leung and Cal Larnerd and Bianca Dukesherer Sarah Parsons and Haley Collins on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

….but no more than five minutes later he had a whole game going!

Playing soccer football at Kokrobite Beach in Accra Ghana with Zack Neher, Meredith Leung, and Cal Larnerd and Bianca Dukesherer Sarah Parsons and Haley Collins on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Michael Collett

I join in the fun and, remarkably, come away from the game with no embarrassing stories or a broken face!

 

Morocco was our next stop, and soccer was everywhere (or was I just paying better attention now?)  I spent the first day in Casablanca with Michael and a few other friends, where we watched a group playing soccer for half an hour, and Michael wound up playing with a different group in front of the Hassan II Mosque for awhile as well!  It was cool being able to see an apparently more organized game, and then a seemingly impromptu game being played a short time later.

People playing soccer football in Casablanca Morocco on Semester at Sea with Michael Collett Teddy Castro Rachel Long and Sonia Szeton Photo Credit Zack Neher

We watched this game for probably about half an hour or so.

Michael Collett playing soccer football outside of Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca Morocco during Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

When we came across this group playing right in front of the Mosque, Michael couldn’t help but join in.

Michael Collett still playing soccer football outside of Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca Morocco on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

 

After our day in Casablanca, my friends and I had an eleven hour bus ride (each way) from Casablanca to the Sahara Desert for our camel trek, which meant that there was a lot of time for just looking out the window.  It seemed like every town that we drove through had at least one or two soccer fields, many of which were in use as we passed by them!

People playing soccer football in the middle of Morocco from the bus between Casablanca and the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack NeherPeople playing soccer football in the middle of Morocco near a mountain from the bus between Casablanca and the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack NeherPeople playing soccer football in the middle of Morocco from the bus between Casablanca and somewhere in the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack NeherPeople playing football soccer in the shadow of a mountain in the middle of Morocco from the bus between Casablanca and the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack NeherSoccer football goals and field in the middle of Morocco near the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack NeherSoccer football goals and a desert tree and field in the middle of Morocco near the Sahara Desert on Semester at Sea camel trek Photo Credit Zack Neher

It came as no surprise to me that soccer was everywhere in England.  One of the most obvious reminders of this was in the neighborhood surrounding Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Football Club.   The stadium itself was cool enough to see, but the surrounding neighborhood clearly was full of fans and supporters.  Many of the shops were in some way related to Arsenal, with pictures, paintings, murals, or lunch specials to draw people in.

Michael Collett standing in front of the Arsenal Emirates Stadium football soccer in London England Great Britain United Kingdom with Teddy Castro Photo Credit Zack Neher

Michael in front of the Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Football Club.

The Match Day Shop near the Arsenal Emirates Stadium soccer football in London England Great Britain United Kingdom with Michael Collett and Teddy Castro Photo Credit Zack NeherFestac Bar sign advertising a %22Matchday Treat for Arsenal Fans%22 soccer football near the Arsenal Emirates Stadium in London England Great Britain United Kingdom with Michael Collett and Teddy Castro Photo Credit Zack Neher

Even outside of the Arsenal neighborhood, soccer was everywhere.  I saw several fields in both London and Dublin that were fenced in like this, but many of them were nowhere near as slick as this.  It was definitely a surprise, coming straight from Morocco, to see people playing on grass or turf fields, instead of sand and rock.

Premier League and the FA Facilities Fund Department for Cultural Media and Sport Delivered by Football Foundation football soccer fields in London England Great Britain United Kingdom with Teddy Castro and Michael Collett Photo Credit Zack Neher

A sign on the gate read “Premier League and the FA Facilities Fund: Department for Cultural Media and Sport. Delivered by Football Foundation.”

Soccer football fields on the campus of DCU Dublin City University in Ireland Photo Credit Zack Neher

Soccer fields on the Dublin City University campus in Ireland.

Nothing else that I saw on Semester at Sea really seemed to have the power to draw people together more than soccer.  Rarely were people unfriendly to us, but nothing seemed to spark up a lively conversation faster than the topic of soccer.  Even just pulling a soccer ball out of your bag somehow drew people from all over the area to play a game.  The apparently universal of soccer seems unmatched by any other sport, more than any movie, book, or religion.  The sense of camaraderie it produced was a fantastic thing to be able to see around the world.

Michael Collett shakes hands with a fellow player while playing soccer football outside of Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca Morocco on Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

*My previous dislike of the game probably stemmed from my innate feat of getting hit in the face by the ball, a relic of my abysmal sports performances in Elementary School and the fact that my glasses seemed to magnetically attract objects that were thrown in my general direction.

**An experience which, rest assured, I still have very mixed feelings about, given the heated controversy surrounding voluntourism.  Why did we even go, and what good did we do there?  I taught some of the kids how to act like a dinosaur, but that can’t possibly have done more good than harm.

Introducing “The Natural World: Connections”

On June 27th, 2012, I posted for the very first time on my original blog, The Natural World.  I was going into my senior year of high school, and was very eager to talk about dinosaurs and other animals on the World Wide Web.  It’s been almost four years now since I first started that blog, and I’ve changed a lot (at least I keep telling myself I have).  Last year, I decided to try and go through the several hundred blog posts I had posted and attempt to bring them up to date, both with any recent scientific advances, but also with a greater sense of academic rigor.  This task was daunting, to say the least, and difficult to do.  I was essentially rewriting posts that I no longer had a great deal of interest in, which kept me from trying to create new and interesting posts that were more relevant to my life today.  My friends suggested starting over, and the idea of a fresh start definitely appealed to me, so here we are.  I’m changing the name of my old blog to “The Natural World: Archives,” and this new blog is “The Natural World: Connections.”*  I’m really looking forward to being able to take advantage of the exciting features that WordPress has to offer, and I think I’ll be able to offer up a better system of picture viewing, as well.

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The new blog, replete with a brand new blog logo.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll probably start explaining where some of the images in the logo actually came from.

The main focus of the blog has not changed, I still aim to promote fun and educational natural history reading.  However, the scope of my topics has definitely broadened, and some posts may be a little more off topic than others.  From everything that I’ve ever learned about learning, I believe that making connections is one of the best ways to learn about something new.  If you can connect a topic to something that you understand better, it will take less time and energy to understand.  It’s with these ideas in mind that I’m going to haphazardly construct my posts.

I have just returned from the study abroad program “Semester at Sea,” where we got to visit a number of different countries around the world, and make some amazing friends in the process.  For this introduction post, I thought I would share a few of the pictures that I got over the last four months, more or less in order.

Real talks in the Pacific Ocean with Michael Collett Photo Credit Zack Neher

Crossing the majestic Pacific Ocean.  It was easy to sit out on deck and watch the waves for hours.  During the Pacific crossing, we were able to spot a number of different seabirds, including several species of albatross and booby, several whales, a number of dolphins, flying fish, and believe it or not, a random owl an entire day out from Japan (and yes, I do have the photos to prove it).

Sunset on the Pacific Ocean Photo Credit Zack Neher

Sunrise on the Pacific.

Glorious Mt. Fuji as viewed from a road along the bus route in Hakone with Michael Collett Lacey Gasaway and Michael Sharp Photo Credit Zack Neher

Our first foreign stop was Japan.  On day three, I went with a few of my friends to Hakone to try and see the stratovolcano Mount Fuji.  We got really lucky, and fortunately it was a pretty clear day.

Zack Neher on a boat in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam Photo Credit Sonia Szeton

In Vietnam, I got the opportunity to check out the fascinating karst landscape of Ha Long Bay.

Michael Collett and Zack Neher in Munnar in Kerala in India Photo Credit Teddy Castro

In India, our group and I stayed in the southern state of Kerala the entire time, and we spent most of our time in local national parks and nature reserves.  Here is me with my buddy Michael Collett near the beautiful town of Munnar.

Two ships of the Indian Navy, the research vessel A74 INS Sagardhwani and the Sukanya class offshore patrol vessel P53 INS Savitri, pass each other in the waters of Cochi or Cochin in Kerala India Photo Credit Zack Neher

Our ship, the MV World Odyssey, was docked in Cochin, which is also the location of the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy.  As such, we got the opportunity to spot a number of the Navy’s ships steaming through, sometimes even conducting exercises.  In this photograph, we have the INS Sagardhwani (A74) on the left, and the Sukanya class offshore patrol vessel INS Savitri (P53) on the right.

An Olive Ridley sea turtle Lepidochelys olivacea in the Indian Ocean Photo Credit Zack Neher

For the most part, the seas were very calm between India and Mauritius, and by spending a lot of time out on deck, I was able to see some pretty exciting animals!  I’m fairly confident that this is an olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), based on the asymmetry of the costal scutes on the back of the animal.

The gang after snorkeling in Mauritius from left to right Teddy Castro Kim Kassander Mark Oldani Meghan with an H Adams and Zack Neher

Mauritius was a refueling and resupplying stop for us, and we only spent one day on land.  I was in a Field Lab (each class you take has one full-day field lab associated with it) for my Marine Biology class, and we got to go snorkeling!  This is me with a few of my friends, as we wait in line to get back on the ship.  From left to right, we have Teddy Castro, Kim Kassander, my roommate Mark Oldani, Meghan (with an “H”) Adams, and myself.

The Mountains of Mauritius seen behind the funnel of the MV World Odysseys Deutschland Semester at Sea Photo Credit Zack Neher

A few of the mountains of Mauritius from the top deck of our ship, the MV World Odyssey (or the MS Deutschland for you German fans of Das Traumschiff).  Until recently, Mauritius was the only home of the flightless pigeon-cousin, the dodo.

A pair of long beaked common dolphins Delphinus capensis porpoising in the waters two days out from Cape Town in South Africa Indian Ocean Photo Credit Zack Neher

Dolphins are not my specialty (and neither are sea turtles), but with the help of the Internet and the interpretive labels at the Iziko South African Museum, I have identified this dolphin as a long-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis).  In the days leading up to our arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, the marine life became increasingly more abundant.  For the first time since we departed Mexico, we were able to see seals, and we also spotted several enormous pods of dolphins, a very high concentration of seabirds, and even two sharks!

Zack Neher at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town in front of the mounted skeletons of the spinosaur theropod Suchomimus and the juvenile sauropod dinosaur Jobaria

Here I am at the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town.  They had a fantastic exhibit on paleontology, focusing a lot on the local Permian Karoo fauna.  They had some dinosaur fossils as well, including these mounted casts of the spinosaur Suchomimus attacking a juvenile Jobaria, a type of sauropod, long-necked dinosaur.

Zack Neher in Kruger National Park South Africa

I was also fortunate enough to be able to fly to Kruger National Park and take a safari, which was an experience that I had wanted to do since childhood.  Unfortunately, I got very ill the night before the full-day safari, but modern medicine saved the day, and I was able to lean against the back window thing and have some fun.

Baby African elephnat Loxodonta africana in the wilds of Kruger National Park South Africa Photo Credit Zack Neher

Here is a baby African elephant (Loxodonta africana) in Kruger.  Unfortunately, elephant overpopulation has become a real issue in the park.

Zack Neher and Michael Collett on top of Table Mountain National Park in the Cape Floral Kingdom in Cape Town South Africa Photo Credit Zack Neher

My buddy Michael Collett and I on top of of Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Table Mountain National Park is home to the Cape Floral Region, one of six of the world’s floral kingdoms.

A trio of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus on the beach at Simon's Town in Cape Town South Africa with Michael Collett and Teddy Castro Photo Credit Zack Neher

I wasn’t about to leave South Africa without getting my first chance to see penguins in the wild, even if it meant getting back to the ship late (a possibility that, for a period of time, we thought might be reality).  We got lucky, and were able to see a number of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) relaxing on land in Simon’s Town.

A view of the tropical rainforest in the Kakum National Park in Ghana from the top of a treehouse with Michael Collett and Caleb LarnerdPhoto Credit Zack Neher

Our next stop was Ghana, where we spent our first night in a treehouse in Kakum National Park.  We got to do the canopy walk early in the morning, which was an amazing experience as well.

Caleb Larnerd Haley Collins and Zack Neher in the Shai Hills Resource Reserve in Ghana

My friends Cal Larnerd and Haley Collins and I visit the Shai Hills Resource Reserve in Ghana, where we had a guide who worked at the park drive around with us in the taxi (on the right is our taxi driver, Yaw).

Sand dunes in the Sahara Desert with Kim Kassander Michael Collett Meredith Leung Haley Collins Emily Kaplan Photo Credit Zack Neher

In Morocco, we spent a very long time on bus rides to get to the Sahara Desert.  It was pretty crazy to think that just a week and a half before, we had been in a rainforest.

The infamous Loch Ness near Inverness in Scotland United Kingdom Photo Credit Zack Neher

Before I went home to Colorado, I spent a few days in England, Ireland, and Scotland.  Here’s a picture of the famous Loch Ness.  Unfortunately, I saw no sign of the Loch Ness Monster.

 

This is just a few brief snapshots of what I’ve been up to the last few months.  I’ve got a big summer planned and there’s a lot to do, so stay tuned for some exciting content coming up soon!