St. Olaf College | News

Student View: The Goal of Creating Community

Luanga Kasanga ’25 (far right, standing) plays football (soccer) with friends old and new while studying abroad on St. Olaf College’s Global Semester.

In this Student View column, Luanga Kasanga ’25 describes how he found an unexpected community on the Hill as a first-year student while watching the African Cup of Nations — and how he’s connecting with the biennial soccer tournament this year during a study-abroad program in Oxford, England.

As a first-year student at a new school, in a new country, I never thought I would spend a cold winter day in rural Northfield, Minnesota, cheering on Senegal’s men’s national football team amidst newly found friends from across the world. But that is exactly what happened in February 2022.

The 15 St. Olaf and Carleton students I found myself gathered with to watch the African Cup of Nations included students not only from the countries of the teams competing — Senegal and Egypt — but also from Burundi, Guinea, Jordan, Nigeria, Palestine, the U.S., and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (my home country). Cheers and groans filled the room as the match even went to extra time and, eventually, penalties. I was so taken in by the merry atmosphere that I forgot that I was in Northfield. When the winning penalty kick was scored, the room erupted in celebration. At that moment, watching my favorite sport with friends old and new, I felt at home away from home — and it made me appreciate the international community here even more.

The African Cup of Nations is one the biggest events of the year when it comes around for the 55 countries of Africa. It’s a football tournament that brings together 24 men’s national teams for a month in a predetermined host city, all vying to lift the most prestigious trophy that they can attain aside from the FIFA World Cup. It’s a tournament that attracts more than half a billion viewers across its run, and sometimes whole cities stop to watch their televisions and devices, even if it’s not their team playing in the final.

So of course, as a Congolese, it’s a core tradition for me to watch my team, or others, play every two years when AFCON happens. Usually I would be at home or among friends in whatever country I was living in at that time when AFCON came around, and it would be an almost festive-like experience when I watched it. In Congo, when the national team is playing, you can travel through the streets and see people huddled around a television screen on the corners, their eyes affixed to the players moving on screen. Stade Kamanyola, also more commonly known as Stade des Martyrs, is the biggest stadium in Congo, where the national team plays. No matter the match, it is always packed and sometimes overflowing with colorful costumes, rumba-istic tunes playing, and whole sections dancing and singing. If the quality on the pitch doesn’t interest you, you can watch the fans instead. 

As a first-year student at St. Olaf in 2022, it was the first time I watched the tournament away from home or outside the African continent — and I was not really expecting to have more than a couple of people to watch it with here in Minnesota.

The tournament started during the January term break before the spring semester, and I was surprised when my International Student Counselor, Haakon Lehn ’23, and my good friend Mohamed Radalla ’25 from Egypt asked me if I was watching the tournament. I had watched the first couple of games by myself on my laptop, which was not the same experience as watching it together with others. We arranged to go to Carleton to watch a group stage match on TV, in which Egypt was playing, with Mohamed’s Egyptian friend and several others. 

Luanga Kasanga '25 took this photo while watching the AFCON final on classroom projectors with a community of St. Olaf and Carleton students.
Luanga Kasanga ’25 took this photo while watching the AFCON final on classroom projectors with a community of St. Olaf and Carleton students.

The first couple of times watching the tournament, I was surprised that there were more than six of us in that group, as more students from Carleton and St. Olaf joined. Yet it was a loud, passionate but fun atmosphere each game.

So one early February day, my friends and I transformed a Northfield classroom into our homes. On the day of the final match, we watched it in a Carleton physics classroom that contained lots of chairs and space, as well as two big screens for us to project the broadcast onto. It felt like a matchday experience, as we went to lunch before at Carleton’s cafeteria using our St. Olaf meal plan — eating together with other fans just like I would at a stadium back home. Egypt had made the final against Senegal — the latter of whom I was personally compelled to cheer for since they could potentially win the trophy for the first time, while Egypt had won it more than seven times already. When Senegal pulled out the victory, many of us were thrilled. 

The international community at St. Olaf is relatively small but tight-knit. Most of my friends are international students, and most students know each other. It makes it much easier to connect with each other about common experiences, as well as have a friend to visit if you happen to be in another part of the world. It’s hard to convey or understand, but having such a warm community is like a familiar teddy bear that you travel with to a new place, and is a sense of comfort. 

A photo taken by Luanga Kasanga ’25 of the Union Buildings in Pretoria while studying abroad in South Africa on the college’s Global Semester.

Even during my Global Semester abroad in Fall 2022, I found that this international community moves with you. I was in South Africa and Namibia during the 2022 World Cup, and with my Global cohort we would gather around TVs in our rooms and cafes during the evenings to watch the various matches. We would pick allegiances to the teams depending on an arbitrary connection we had to them, whether we had just studied there (Ecuador, for example) or had family from there. It’s making do with what you have and where you are. 

During this year’s African Cup of Nations — which is taking place right now and will continue through mid-February — I am studying abroad in Oxford, England. In the same way I did on the Hill during the last AFCON, I am finding ways to watch my favorite sporting event in community with others. I watched my country play their group stage games at a pub called Heat, which serves food from my home region. I’ve also stayed active by joining a football (soccer) team at my college in Oxford, as well as the university’s African Caribbean Society. I’ve learned that community is something you create, whether on the Hill or abroad — and I’m excited to continue developing those connections this term. When I return to St. Olaf after my program, I will have more friends from around the world on my team.