The team forged cross-cultural friendships during trip to Turkey
Sports | Jenny Hudalla
During their week-long trip to Turkey, the Royals (5-3 MIAC) ran two youth hockey camps. Captain Jon Crouse said the experience showed the team "how much of an honor it is to play at Bethel and to never take a shift, practice or game for granted." Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Mitch Hughes.
Bethel’s core values aren’t just words on a wall in the Brushaber Commons. They are affirmations of the type of people we aspire to be.
While the significance of these values is often lost amidst the bustle of everyday life, the men’s hockey team found time to be salt and light in Turkey during Christmas break.
The Royals touched down in Erzurum on Dec. 22 and spent the next eight days immersed in the culture. Turkey’s social, economic and political systems are much different from those in the United States, and its largely Muslim population gave the team an incredible opportunity for cultural exchange. A reduced dependence on technology, daily calls to prayer and a lax attitude toward time were just a few things the Royals had to adjust to.
“We never got a chance to do a formal introduction to how things would be over there,” said team captain Jon Crouse. “We had to just act and think on our toes, but do it wisely.”
On their first night overseas, the Royals went to have coke and tea with the Turkish team that they would be spending time and playing with for the remainder of the trip. Despite linguistic and cultural barriers, players from both teams quickly established genuine friendships.
“I really felt a connection with the guys I was sitting with and carried those relationships throughout the trip,” said sophomore captain Tyler Swanson. “Before games we would always make a point to meet up down in the tunnel and talk about our days, joking and getting to know each other better.”
According to head coach Charlie Burggraf, even the interpreter working with the groups was amazed by the easy interaction between the teams.
“We were coming from the outside, and there’s a lot of animosity for neighboring teams that come in and play,” Burggraf said. “We were really different. And I don’t think our guys even knew that.”
The Royals also did their best to debunk any faulty stereotypes the Turkish players had regarding Americans. Because hockey is a developing sport in Turkey, foreign teams do not always treat the players kindly after winning. However, after Bethel won the first game 13-1, the coaches decided to mix the teams, creating a unique sense of camaraderie between cultures. As a result, the Royals displayed a new and positive image of the United States.
“You don’t have to change someone completely to make a difference,” Crouse said. “Most of these people will never have any type of experience with Americans, so we needed to put out a good impression … The slightest acts of generosity can go a long way.”
Besides playing hockey, exploring the city and skiing in the mountains, the team also worked at a youth hockey camp for much of the trip. After recognizing how few resources the children had, the players began giving away everything they had – laces, sticks, elbow pads, shirts – just to see the smiles spread across the children’s faces.
“The kid’s eyes just lit up when I gave him my laces,” Swanson said. “I realized how truly blessed I am to have all the things I have in life.”
Although the players and coaches sensed a certain level of darkness in the strictly run country, they were still willing to go and be a light for the Turkish players. The presence of U.S. troops on the border between Turkey and Syria also gave the team peace of mind.
“I just felt confident that it was the right thing to do, even if I didn’t come back,” Burggraf said.
Thankfully, the team did come back rejuvenated and ready to defend its No. 2 spot in the MIAC, feeding off the team camaraderie strengthened in Turkey. Having witnessed the situation of those less fortunate, the Royals will move forward with a fresh perspective and new appreciation for the game of hockey.
“It always challenges us to have a global worldview,” Burggraf said. “People are different, but they are people. They’re real and so are we. That’s what is so powerful – crossing political, religious and governmental boundaries using the platform of hockey."