Student's World Cup Trip Serves as Chance to Meet Family Members in Brazil for First Time

Posing with soccer team poster

For this year’s FIFA World Cup, more Americans bought tickets to see the games than people from any other nation except for Brazil, the host country. Patrick LaFata was one of those Americans who scooped up seats to the international sporting event, but he received a unique two-for-one deal with his trip to São Paolo, Brazil’s largest city.

LaFata, a junior computer engineering student, was able to meet extended family members from his mother’s side for the first time in his life. He visited and stayed with his grandmother’s sister, three aunts and uncles and a handful of cousins who were around his age. But he still learned more than just names and faces. 

“I tried to learn as much Portuguese as possible. I have a decent background in Spanish, so it was easier to understand conversations and more difficult to say something,” LaFata said. “I could still join in conversation with relatives, and a couple cousins spoke English.”

Despite the family reunion, LaFata attended the World Cup games by himself. But when he wore his Brazilian jersey for all three games, he was never alone.

“A lot of native Brazilians would just go to see the games, so there were always crowds of yellow jerseys,” he said. Besides that, there were always friendly people to meet and talk to, whether it was on the subway or in the stadium, the Arena de São Paolo.

“I got very lucky. I was seated in the Chilean fan section for the Chile versus Netherlands game [on June 26], so I got to hear all of their national songs and see their crazy outfits. And for the last game I went to, which was Belgium against Korea, I set next to the Belgian fan section. And they were even crazier!” he said.

LaFata, who also attended the match between England and Uruguay [on June 19], entered a ticket lottery in July 2013 — four months before the random selection drawing was held in October.

“That was a little early,” he admitted. “But the World Cup is my favorite sporting event of all time, so of course I was motivated to apply for tickets.”

LaFata credits his mother for kick-starting his love of soccer and the World Cup.

“I always had an interest in the sport since I found out my mom was from Brazil. We’d always watch the World Cup and cheer on Brazil,” he said.

LaFata, who played soccer from elementary school through high school, got even more of a taste for the sport when he visited Museu de Futebol, or the museum of soccer, in São Paolo. He toured an exhibit on the history of the World Cup, and also learned about the development of the sport and its equipment.

LaFata is already making plans to return to Brazil next summer, and his goals include visiting more cities, including Rio de Janeiro. But he has no plans thus far to return again in 2016 for the Summer Olympics: When he does go to the Olympics, it will be in a new country ripe for exploration.