Let me explain. I was fortunate in high school in that I didn’t have a terrible time. I was editor of my school newspaper and a good student, I had friends I liked and despite a healthy dose of teen angst, I was sad to leave those days behind. But there is one experience that I never had – I was never a sports star. I played tennis (at a mediocre level) and I swam (at a slightly better than mediocre level), but I never experienced that “rah rah rah” team bonding that is featured on so many movies and television shows about my home state – Texas.
That’s why when a friend invited me to try out for the newly assembled women’s rugby team in Beijing, I jumped at the chance. Had I ever played rugby before? No. Did I even know what kind of ball was used in rugby? No. I didn’t even know if you kick or throw the ball in rugby (apparently, you do both).
That’s how I found myself on a bus (a bus!) with my friend and 15 other girls – half of us experienced players, half as new to the sport as I was, and suddenly I saw it. The rugby field, at night, lit up with bright beams. It felt like a return to high school (if I had actually ever been allowed to set foot on a field in high school). In fact, we were on Dulwich’s field and the coach, Amy, is the girls’ rugby coach at the Western Academy of Beijing.
I spent the majority of the time either standing around with my hand on my hip trying to understand what was going on or running around in circles and passing the ball to anyone who made eye contact with me. A rugby star I was not, but I loved it. So this is what it felt like to be on a team with enthusiastic girls, to yell things like, “I’m open! I’m open!”, to get dirty and tired, and to clamber back on the bus feeling closer to these girls who had been strangers just a few hours ago.
On that note, welcome to our education issue. We’ve got a guide to different high school curricula, a primer for preschool, and we’ve interviewed six college applicants in Beijing. But we all know school isn’t just about books. My rugby experience last week reminded me about the best things from those years – learning something new in an unintimidating environment, bonding with fellow classmates, and having a lot of fun.
Will I return to rugby practice? I just have to get over one challenge of the game: tackling and getting tackled. I left practice deliriously happy but woke up the next morning sore and with four new bruises on my shins and thighs. As for girls who play rugby in high school, they’re young and resilient. They’ll recover faster. Me? I’m still deciding if I’ll return. After all, it’s become painfully clear that my high school days are far behind me.