SMU brings soccer to the classroom

Sport, including soccer, is part of the culture at Saint Mary’s. Luciana Morales from the university’s women’s soccer team faces off against a player from St. Francis Xavier. Photo: Kelly O’Connor

There’s not a distracted laptop user in sight, not a single student tapping away on an iPhone. A classroom of interested students is an unusual sight, but it’s reality in Professor Rosana Barbosa’s Soccer in Brazil class at Saint Mary’s University.

This semester is the only the second time the course has been offered, but it has already become a popular one. The class garnered attention from the Huffington Post Canada news website as one of the coolest classes in Canada. Sixteen students are registered in this semester’s class — enough for a full soccer team plus a few substitutes.

For those thinking that a class about soccer is an easy A, think again. This history class teaches the complex history of Brazil. Barbosa explains how themes such as immigration, racial tensions and urbanization are closely intertwined with the evolution of soccer in the South American country.

Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Barbosa was inspired to offer the class as the time approached for Brazil to host the World Cup last summer.

“Saint Mary’s has a culture of sport,” she says. “Sports are important here, a number of students would like sports included in their academic work.”

Professor Rosana Barbosa’s enthusiasm for soccer and her native Brazil connects students with the subject material of her Saint Mary’s University course. Photo: Kelly O’Connor

Barbosa is a history professor who specializes in Latin American history and immigration. As she began researching and forming the outline for the class, Barbosa realized soccer is a great tool to teach students about the history of Brazil.

Barbosa brings history to life in her classroom, weaving in stories and memories from her childhood. In a class about urbanization in the first half of the 20th century and the construction of the Maracanã soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Barbosa tells a story of her father’s memories of the 1950 World Cup, which Brazil hosted.

The course is attracting students from outside the history department. Andrew MacCulloch, a commerce student, took the class to learn more about Brazilian history and culture. The history aspect initially appealed to him more than soccer, but he thinks there’s a connection.

“It just makes sense that they go hand in hand,” he says. “You can learn a lot about what a country is like through a sport.”

Another student, Megan Allen, didn’t know what to expect coming into the class.

“I thought I was going to learn about soccer, but I’ve learned about how soccer is affecting all these outside forces,” she says. “You learn about how so many things influence soccer, but also about how soccer influences so many things.”

The class will be offered in future semesters, but under a slightly different name: Soccer: A History of Brazil.

“You can discover history through soccer,” Barbosa says. “Soccer isn’t in a vacuum, soccer is a part of the history of the country. Soccer and national identity in Brazil go hand in hand.”