Questions answered in this
‣ What did you do over there?
‣ What was the rugby like?
‣ Now what? What’s next for you, Em?
‣ “Were there any cuties?”
‣ What was living in South Africa like?
‣ What was a typical conversation?
‣ What was your favorite part of South Africa?
‣ What were your top 3 moments?
‣ What is a braai?
Q: What did you do over there?
A: I was a full time student at a referee academy– the only ref academy in the world! You can check out what we did every single hour of the day here. In short, I was living with 4 other ref students and we trained 7 days a week to become better referees. That included classroom sessions where we studied the law, role played various scenarios, and discussed anything and everything relate to rugby. We also had strength & conditioning, speed & agility, decision making, mental, and visual training, and of course, officiated a TON of rugby throughout the Western Province.
We lived a pretty awesome life outside of rugby as well and enjoyed a lot of non-rugby activities such as going to $3 movies, hiking incredibly beautiful mountains, hitting up the local university’s night life, going to $5 all-you-can-eat pizza nights, and enjoying Stellenbosch’s world famous win tours.
Q: What was the rugby like?
A: Amazing. Incredible. Any positive adjective you can think of. As I describe in this blog post, South Africa has an incredibly strong and pervasive rugby culture. As trainees in the academy, the longest consecutive break we had from reffing was 2 days because there was that much rugby. Tons. See this blog post for a list of all the rugby I officiated within a week. From babies to granpas, youth festivals to professional matches, and everything in between, rugby showed its face. Unfortunately, women’s rugby was less common. It was extremely rare for women to play contact rugby, although there was a touch league in the Western Province.
Q: Now what? What’s next for you, Em?
A: I get this question a lot. My best answer is that now I keep reffing as much as possible, trying my best, and working my hardest. Not everything from SA can be replicated in USA but I’m doing my best to emulate and adapt the pieces I can into my American life. What this means is making rugby part of my everyday lifestyle instead of a weekend-only activity. For the fall ’14 season I had rugby 7 days a week, with practices and gym training Monday – Thursday and matches Friday – Sunday. Leading up to weekend matches I also studied the law, did video- and voice- analysis, studied film, and had frequent discussions with my coach and peers.
Q: “Were there any cuties?”
Q: What was living in South Africa like?
A: Living in Stellenbosch, SA sometimes felt like living in the 90s in America, especially with regards to the number of cool, “retro”, boxy cars on the roads and the Internet. The Internet situation reminded me of my youth– it was extremely expensive, not widely accessible, much slower than what we’re accustomed to in the US, and I had to wait for someone to turn it on whenever I wanted to use it, similar to asking my parents to turn our Internet on when I was growing up. I really enjoyed the music on their most popular music station though! I hesitate to call it a “pop” music radio station because it had way more variety than any iHeartRadio station in America. So. Much. Better! My experience also included a lot of time spent walking, which I loved if I wasn’t running late. My body loved the familiar feeling of walking around a college campus. I loved that we didn’t have to drive everywhere. We lived about a 25 minute walk from the rugby stadium/office, the gym, the rugby pitches, and about a 15 minute walk from the local high school hostel where we ate lunch and dinner every day. Walking around Stellenbosch during the daytime was soothing, meditative, and refreshing for me. Walking around at night was a different story.
Q: What was a typical conversation?
A: As an Asian woman in South Africa, I often 5stood out like a unicorn at rugby events. Although many conversations probably started because of my appearance, I often redirected them to be about USA, Boston, the snow, and rugby in America :) Everyone I talked to was extremely friendly and welcoming! A typical conversation went something like this-
New friend: From where are you? (OR) Are you Japanese?
Me: Nope! But thanks for asking. I’m from America. (In my most natural American accent)
Me: Yeah, I’m from Boston. It was snowing when I left.
Friend: Is it??!? (South Africans say “is it?”, with the accent on IS, instead of “really?”)
Friend: Sometimes it snows in SA waaay up there in the mountains, but it never stays.
Friend: Do they play rugby over there?
Me: Yes! USA actually has the highest number of girls and women who play rugby of any country.
Friend: Is it??!?”
Q: What was your favorite part of South Africa?
A: The rugby!!!!!!!!!! Hands down. In second place is the weather and landscape. It was beautiful. 60 degrees Fahrenheit was cold.
Q: What were your top 3 moments?
A: My top 3 moments at the ref academy were 3 days of rugby that really took the cake.
- First was my second day in SA, where we reffed a youth festival (tournament) with U11 and U13 teams playing 7s, 10s, and 15s throughout the entire day! I fell in love with the country’s rugby immediately. It was an excellent way to dive head first into South African rugby culture!
- Second was a Thursday about mid-way through my stay where I reffed trials for the IRB U20 Junior World Championship team, aka the Junior Bok or Baby Boks, as they are lovingly called at home. It was the fastest and most skilled rugby I had seen and been a part of! Later that evening, we reffed a youth 10s tournament at a local school in Paarl. There were many families in the crowd and kids under 5 years old playing with rugby balls in the sandbox and in the corner of the pitch. A nice woman at the snack shack sold me a discounted custom ham sandwich when I didn’t have enough cash. The atmosphere of a youth tournament on a school night that ended well past 9PM was uplifting to say the least.
- My third and final favorite moment was my last Saturday in South Africa. We started the day early and left for Paul Roos before 7am. That morning I reffed my final two school games, a U15 match and a U19 match with Paul Roos’ U19I side. That’s right, their “I”th team, as in A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I – their 9th side!!!! It’s amazing to me just how much rugby there is in SA, and how enamored the entire country is with it. I love it. We left before the title match between the U19A teams in order to get to Newlands, Cape Town, in time for their Women’s Springboks world cup tune-up match. I got to be the AR for the game and wear SA kit!!!!!!!!!! It was the first time in history that a team of 5 referees at Newlands were all women, and I got to be a part of it. Incredible. I was definitely awestruck by the magnificence of Newlands, the touch of the silkiest kit I’ve ever worn, and the perfectly groomed grass. The Newlands Stadium is the 2nd oldest rugby stadium in the world, and the oldest in South Africa. It’s home to the Stormers, and after the Lady Boks’ match we got to hang around and watch the Stormers beat the Force :) We topped off the entire experience with our last night out in Stellenbosch.
Q: What is a braai?
A: Only the best “barbeque” you’ll ever experience.
Feel free to ask me more questions in the comments below or contact me!