On February 27th I took a connecting flight out of Boston to Dallas. I boarded a plane that would take me 5,400 miles from my home, into the Southern Hemisphere, to a country with a language different than my own.
I wouldn’t meet the family I would be living with until the following week. I’m thankful for this now because until coming to Argentina I hadn’t been outside of the United States for more than a week. I can’t imagine what kind of impression I would have made on my host family being thrown into their house on the first day.
At this point in the NHL regular season the Bruins had recently hired Bruce Cassidy as interim head coach. They were 7-1 under Cassidy and were looking to turn their game around and hopefully make a push for the playoffs. The first night I was in Buenos Aires the B’s were in Glendale, Arizona taking on the Coyotes, a game they would eventually win 4-1.
To say it has been a struggle to cover the NHL while being in a different time zone, more than a 13-hour flight from home, isn’t necessarily true. After moving into my host family’s apartment it was easy to settle down and watch hockey on my free nights. However, what is unique about the program that I am involved in is that it travels to multiple countries in the region. This means that for weeks at a time I would be on the go, whether that be in rural Caaguazú, Paraguay or hanging out on the breezy shores of Montevideo, Uruguay.
I have been thoroughly enjoying my time abroad. It has been an experience unlike any other, and I highly suggest that anyone who has the opportunity to should take the chance and just go for it, even if you can’t speak the language well (like myself).
For me, however, studying abroad didn’t just mean I was going to leave hockey behind. I brought my host family a puck that I had bought specifically with them in mind before I left the United States. When I told them that I play hockey “sobre hielo” (on ice) they could at least understand what I meant. The puck was strange to them, but my host-sister’s boyfriend, who is about twenty-five, loved it. The sports world is something he seems to know more about than the rest of the family. I also brought floor-hockey sticks, which I had in mind for younger kids. The program I am a part of doesn’t tell its students anything about their host families until they are in Argentina, so I wasn’t sure if my family was going to have kids or not. It ended up working out because my host family has a grandson that is only two years old. When he comes over I’ll sometimes try to hit the ball around with him (I am doing my part to contribute to hockey globalization).
I never rush through meals to watch hockey, but Argentines eat dinner around 9-10pm, which, when accounting for the time difference, is about 8-9pm on the east coast of the United States. This is normally right in the middle of most NHL games. I have explained to my host family my habits of watching hockey, and considering the two gifts I brought for them were related to the sport I think they understand the importance it has in my life.
Looking back at it, the effort I have been putting into staying updated on what is going on in the NHL, and the hockey world in general, might seem a bit crazy to any normal person. This kind of obsession hit its peak when I found myself video-chatting with my girlfriend so that she could face her camera at the TV because the wifi in my hotel wasn’t letting my computer stream the game I was trying to watch (yes, she's a keeper).
Not only do I enjoy watching hockey, I take pleasure in getting other people involved with the game as well. Whether that means sharing articles that help others learn and stay up to date with the game, or writing about stories and events myself, it is a passion of mine that I have continued well into my time in Latin America. Writing has been a connection I have maintained with the United States, and in a part of the world where so much is foreign, it helps me maintain a sense of normality.
For nearly all hockey fans, the NHL playoffs is the best time of year to be sitting down in front of the TV, watching teams compete well into the night. As the postseason began, I found myself traveling to Mendoza, Argentina during a long weekend. Our group of 12 stayed at a hostel where the internet was so bad that you could barely send a text message never mind stream a hockey game. The closest I got to sitting down in front of a live hockey game during this time was at the table of a burger joint where I was able to watch the second and third period of a game between the Bruins and the Ottawa Senators, a game that the Sens eventually won in overtime off a Bobby Ryan rebound goal.
As soon as I got back from Mendoza, I was on another flight, this time to Porto Alegre, Brazil. Porto Alegre is a beautiful city that is also situated right on the coast, similar to Buenos Aires. At this point I finally felt like I was getting the hang of speaking Spanish with local people. I was able to order food, ask for directions, and even have somewhat fluid conversation with my host family. I had made all this progress only to be thrown into a country where the language changed yet again. This time from Spanish to Portuguese. If anything, this inability to communicate in Brazil helped me appreciate how much Spanish I had learned. As similar as Portuguese is to Spanish, I quickly understood that if I tried to speak my English-Spanish mix to people in Porto Alegre it wasn’t going to get me far.
The conference semifinals are well underway, and as for myself I have less than a month and a half left in what has been an amazing experience in South America. Before I am home it is likely that the 2017 Stanley Cup Champion will already be decided, and summer will be in full effect in the Northern Hemisphere. As great as the experience abroad has been so far I would be lying if I said I am not itching to get back on the ice myself, and I think a little summer beer-league hockey will be exactly what I need after three and a half months.
I will leave you with a couple more photos from my time abroad, if you want to keep up with the rest of my trip follow me on instagram @jperrigo7 and I will continue to cover the NHL on twitter, also at @jperrigo7, you can read my past articles at guybostonsports.com.