For anyone who knows me, who, let’s be honest, is probably everyone actually reading this, you know that sports are a huge part of my life. In fact, sports have become such a fundamental part of who I am that I’m pursuing a career in sports — go figure. Anyways, New Zealand isn’t always thought of as a sporting mecca of the world, but I was very excited to experience my first international sporting event at a professional rugby game last weekend.
Coming with the excitement and expectation of a typical USC football game, I was a little taken aback by the seemingly relaxed nature of the stadium at first. There wasn’t the typical fanfare from the stadium that we are used to in American arenas. There was no hype tape, no dance cam, no celebrity endorsements of the team.
The fan experience was definitely different than any game I have attended at home. It reminded me of the experiment the New York Knicks undertook just a couple weeks ago where they nixed all the music, video and in-game entertainment that accompanies a sporting event. I would argue that it allows the fans to experience the game in a more pure form and there are no distractions.
Everyone in the stadium is solely focused on the game. There aren’t training wheels for those who don’t normally watch sports. I think without all that distraction it actually breeds fans who are more into and focused on the game though not as boisterous as American fans.
This isn’t to say that the arena had no energy. Whenever something happened, good or bad to the Blues (Auckland’s home team), the crowd would erupt. When the Blues scored, plumes of fire shot into the sky from the sidelines.
I felt more in my element inside the park than I had for a long time when doing something for the first time. I was so happy that my experience cemented something in my mind that I have believed for a long time. It’s never just about what happened on the field in any given game, but it’s about bringing people together.
There was a large group of American students who attended with our local study abroad adviser and one guy was excited to start the wave. Our adviser assured him that though it isn’t a normal staple at a rugby game, everyone would know what to do. He was right. Our American started the wave and it went around the stadium for a complete two cycles — something I’ve never been a part of at home. It always peters out halfway around.
This experience helped me see another side of studying abroad. This experience isn’t just about me learning about Kiwi culture, but it’s also about me bringing my American culture to another country. The exchange of culture can come anywhere — as demonstrated by this rugby game — but the location doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that it is a positive for both parties.
Combining studying abroad and my love for sports has been a highlight of mine so far, but more so for what I learned about both New Zealand and American culture along the way than for what happened on the field. With all that said, unfortunately the Blues lost. As time expired, they failed to score a try though they had been knocking on the door. So given all the existential stuff that I took away from the game, know that I still did enjoy everything that went on in the game and was on my feet cheering as time expired along with everyone else in the stadium, American or Kiwi.