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Paulo: Bringing chess to America

Paulo Victor Panazzolo, a 22-year-old Brazilian studying early childhood education as a participant in the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI), writes about getting involved on campus and creating a chess club at Whatcom Community College.  

DSC01175On the day I found out I would come to America, I checked out the Whatcom website in order to understand what was going on at the college. While looking, one detail in particular caught my attention: The college supported many clubs, and it made me feel very excited! Actually, I had never heard about clubs at my university in Brazil, where there were some activities involving sports and dance, but students had to pay a fee to be enrolled.  I was amazed how clubs such as the Bike Club, Japanese Club, Socialism Club and Anime Club encouraged students to be involved with the college. However, there was one particular club that I was very interested: the Chess Club! But… there was no Chess Club. I was a little upset because America is a very strong country in chess, and I was expecting involvement of all American cities in chess. I did not know if I would have the possibility to open a chess club, but when I boarded the airplane coming to America, I was sure I would try hard to create a chess club.

When I arrived in America, the student life team members at our college explained to me how the clubs worked as well as the purposes of the clubs on campus. The main purpose of the clubs is to engage students—and sometimes, the community—in activities related to a single area of interest.

DSC02494I asked the student life president if there was any possibility for me to create a chess club. Fortunately, he said I absolutely could, but I would have to go through the process of creating the club, which might be challenging, but worth the effort. I got very excited that a simple student would be able to launch a club, so… Here we go!

First, I had to look for five students interested in signing up for the chess club. This step is quite obvious actually, because I believe that the creation of one club that no one is interested is worthless. Then, I had to approach students on campus to find out if they were interested in chess. I was feeling very shy at the beginning because I thought my English wasn’t very good and people usually have a distorted opinion about chess. In order to overcome this fear, I practiced my speech before approaching other students. For my surprise, it worked better than expected! I did not stumble on my words and was clear when telling them about the chess club and its purpose. It was a unique experience to improve my self-confidence.

After collecting all the signatures, I had to find an advisor to help me. In order to find the advisor, I popped up at all the buildings at the college. It was an interesting experience to measure my perseverance, because I have never received so many “no’s” in my entire life. I mean, it was a friendly no. Actually, the answer wasn’t “No, I can’t help you.” The most common answer was “I would love to be your advisor, but I am pretty busy right now”. Then, when my hope was almost gone, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I have never shared my real desire of running the chess at the college with my NWCCI advisor. When I shared my issue with her, she said: “I can be your advisor.” Yeah!! I finally found what I needed to make the chess club possible!

DSC02495After finding an advisor… beat the drums!! The club was officially launched! It was a great accomplishment for me, because I went through a lot to make it possible.  Everything ran better than expected! However, I was very, VERY afraid of the argument that I heard from potential club members at least 90% of the time: “Ok, I will sign up for that, but I can’t promise I will go, because I am pretty busy.”

This issue is not only found in America because many Brazilians also say they are always busy. Actually, I am still trying to find a solution for this problem, which is very challenging, but I like to be put to the test. Nowadays, the chess club is going one step at the time. At our last meeting, there were four of us. The American students who showed up demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm about the creation of the chess club. Also, they told me they have more friends who play chess and they will certainly invite them to come over.

As an international student, I feel very proud of myself for creating a club that did not exist at the college before!

The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

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