First-year graduate student Henry Kamugisha, originally from Uganda, was walking home after studying at the library late Friday night and was surprised to be intercepted by the Notre Dame band performing pre-football game festivities.
“I thought I had seen enough. More is attached to this football?” he said. “Then Saturday morning I woke up, getting out of my house, the whole environment had changed and I saw people everywhere.”
Kamugisha said he had never watched football before the game against Ohio State and was not immediately impressed.
“I didn’t understand anything because I was like, okay, is this relevant? It’s not relevant,” he explained.
While American students at Notre Dame often arrive on campus prepared for the intense culture of supporting the football team, international students like Kamugisha often have had no exposure to the atmosphere of college football in America.
Junior Yeowon Cho, originally from South Korea and an exchange student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, found herself confused about football’s rules.
“I’m actually going to this session called ‘Football 101’ [on Thursday night],” Cho said.
The session, sponsored by the International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) team, invites “international students and friends” to learn about the essentials of American football and Notre Dame traditions, according to the ISSA website.
First-year Ph.D. student Salvatore Riolo said he understood the rules of football before leaving Italy to study at Notre Dame due to a personal interest in the American way of life.
“I’m pretty obsessed with American culture, so even when I was in Italy, I used to watch the Super Bowl every year. So that’s why I know the rules to this kind of thing, and I was looking forward to the games,” Riolo explained.
Despite understanding football’s influence on American culture, Riolo said he was still surprised to see the size of the crowds on campus for the game against Marshall.
“I didn’t expect the amount of tourists around the campus,” he said. “People from outside and all the tailgates around, which is something very American.”
Sophomore Pedro Bolsonaro said he also knew the rules of football because he was a fan of the NFL while living in Brazil before coming to Notre Dame last year. Despite this, he said he hadn’t started following college football.
“Last year I thought the NFL was more exciting for the better players, but throughout the year, I built that connection with the university and that kind of translated to how I see football now,” Bolsonaro said.
Cho enjoyed the home game against Marshall, despite its disappointing result.
“It was really energetic, I liked it,” Cho said. “But I had heard from my friend that they were like 99% sure that they were going to win against Marshall. I wasn’t that angry, but then it was sad to see people actually being so sad.”
Riolo said he was greatly disappointed in Notre Dame who, despite being ranked eighth in the AP college football rankings, lost to unranked Marshall.
“I thought I was going to see a very good performance. I didn’t know much about college football but I knew that Notre Dame has a very long and victorious history,” Riolo said. “I was kind of disappointed because the game wasn’t that good. The interceptions – that wasn’t what I was expecting.”
Kamugisha, having just begun learning about the sport, said he was sad to watch his new team’s defeat. “We haven’t recovered from it. I know we shall get over that, but yeah, it wasn’t good,” he said.
First-year Gabrielle Benitez, an international student originally from the Philippines who also had never watched football before coming to Notre Dame, said she felt similar.
“I don’t know why, but coming into this school, I had the notion that we’re like, undefeated and stuff,” she said. “But clearly, that wasn’t the case.”
Despite this, Kamugisha and Benitez spoke highly of the experience and sense of inclusion as new Notre Dame football fans.
“It was nice to be a part of that community that treasures the football team so much,” Benitez said.
Kamugisha said he felt supported by fellow Notre Dame fans as he watched his new favorite team and took part in gameday traditions.
“I think everyone here is supportive,” Kamugisha said. “They make you actually get taken up to love this game and to feel like, ‘yes, I belong here.’”
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