Though she is not a goalie, Rebecca Silva '11 used her hands to play soccer in Chile.

As a member of "Las Rojitas," the Chilean Under-20 Women's National Team, Silva, who did not know Spanish at the time, was forced to write important Spanish words on her hand to call out to teammates.

"I couldn't give or understand directions on the field at first," Silva said of her first few weeks on the team. "The language barrier really affected my soccer. We had these tactical meetings before every practice, and I would understand like four words."

Although Silva is Chilean-American and had been to Chile many times, she said that this trip was different. In the past she stayed with her father's family in Santiago, where she was born and lived for six months before immigrating to the United States. But during her time on the national team, she lived alone in a sports hotel in Santiago with other elite Chilean athletes, all expenses paid by the Chilean government.

Silva was first offered the opportunity to play in Chile by the coach of an American club team while at a soccer tournament in Iowa. The American club team was traveling to Chile to play exhibition games against Chilean women's teams, including the under-20 national team.

While in Chile, Silva was approached by the coach of the national team, and a year later, was invited to try out for the squad in Florida. She and two other Chilean-Americans made the cut and traveled to Santiago to play for the women's team full-time. Silva's commitments to the national team meant that she did not return for the second semester of her freshman year at Bowdoin.

Because Silva lived on an all-male floor of the hotel, her first friends were wrestlers, boys who often complained that their sport received little recognition in the soccer-dominated Chilean sports arena.

"The other athletes were furious that soccer was the only real sport in Chile," she said.

Silva said she did not interact with the athletes on the men's soccer team because they lived in apartments paid for by the government. All other athletes stayed in the hotel, hounded by maids to keep their rooms clean.

Silva said her team did not attract the same degree of attention as the men, but added that they were still treated like celebrities at times. Silva received even more attention for her foreign appearance and heritage. She recalls being confronted on the street by cheering high school boys and recognized by cab drivers from her spots on Chilean news networks. She was often asked to sign autographs.

Although soccer is extremely popular in Chile, its fans and athletes consist almost entirely of men. The few youth soccer programs for girls have sprung up within the past decade, and the women's professional soccer league started in May 2008. Silva said Chile has recently directed more resources to women's soccer because the country is hosting the 2008 Under-20 Women's World Cup in November, as well as the adult women's World Cup in 2015.

Because Chile only recently began to encourage women's involvement in the sport, many younger girls are unaware that "Las Rojitas" exists. As a result, the majority of the team's fans are boys and men who discovered the team through their interest in men's soccer. Indeed, one of the team's games with the largest turnout was played immediately before a men's game.

According to Silva, Marta Tejedor, the Spanish coach of "Las Rojitas," is in the "tough position" of trying to legitimize women's involvement in a historically male-dominated sport in a country where machismo is still a commonly accepted term. Tejedor stressed "looking coordinated, professional and athletic" to the women on the squad, Silva said.

The team spent over an hour and a half a day juggling in order to develop skills that would impress other teams with their technical skills. Silva doubted the usefulness of the drill, saying that oftentimes the other teams did not pay attention as the Chileans showed off their tricks.

Silva also mentioned that all the female soccer players were put on weight-loss diets despite practicing for seven hours every day. "I lasted one day on the salad diet before I complained," she said.

Because she is taller and more muscular than the smaller Chilean players, Silva was spared from taking creatine, a muscle-mass enhancing drug that is highly controversial in the United States. Silva said she thought the drug supplements were "an image thing," and not necessarily to improve performance.

Silva, who quit the team during the early summer, explained her decision as "a culmination of smaller details," but not having to do with any specific incident. The demanding practice regimen, the strictness of the sports hotel and competition between the other women on the team combined to create what Silva referred to as "a rotten environment."

"I found myself losing all joy in playing soccer," she said. Additionally, Silva decided she had met her non-athletic goals of getting to know her Chilean family better and improving her Spanish.

Silva said she was not willing to forgo another semester at Bowdoin for the chance to play for Chile in the Under-20 Women's World Cup. " I wasn't ready to play soccer all day every day in Chile for another semester when I could be at Bowdoin."

"Coming back was all very surreal," said Silva. "I didn't know how I would connect to people when I got back, but I feel like my friendships are stronger this year," she reflected. Silva said the most challenging part of returning to college has been the workload. "I'm still adjusting to homework," she said.

Despite having quit "Las Rojitas," Silva said that she has a lot of good memories from the team. Some of her favorite memories include beating the under-20 women's teams from France and England, and tying Norway. She now plays for the Polar Bears and said that this fall, she has been able to "keep soccer fun."