The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. Our next ex-pat comes from our neighbors to the north- Laura from Winnipeg. Read on and enjoy hearing about life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
I’m Laura Pyles, and I’m originally from Frankfort, KY. I now live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, which is above North Dakota and just about as cold as you expect.
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
I met my now-husband while interning in Canada during after junior year in college. I finished up my Masters in North Carolina while we dated long distance and then he convinced me to come live in the Great White North.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
Canadians are as obsessed with hockey as all the stereotypes. Winnipeg lost their professional hockey team, the Jets, in 1996. The team just returned to the city in 2011, so people here are obsessed with them and still in a bit of a honeymoon phase. It’s all Jets, all the time, year round. Other than that, Winnipeggers will cheer for the Minnesota Twins or Vikings, or the Toronto Blue Jays.
Have you become an obsessive hockey fan yet? Do you know any Mounties?
My husband actually hosts a hockey radio show on TSN (Canadian version of ESPN), and we share season tickets for the Winnipeg Jets. So while I’m not obsessed, I do know my way around a hockey game and was pretty devastated when the US lost to Canada in the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics.
I don’t know any Mounties, unfortunately. I’ve seen them on horses for ceremonies, but most of the time they’re just like regular police, which is less exciting.
Was it a hard adjustment going from living where everyone knows every detail about UK sports, to where people may conceivably think UK and Louisville are the same team?
It is really difficult, especially this year when people thought Louisville was my team. I actually think it might have been easier when I lived in North Carolina, because at least fans there understood college basketball/March Madness/etc, even if it was for the wrong team. Now I have to g-chat with my friends from back home during games to get that same level of support.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar?
Funnily enough, I will occasionally see people wearing Kentucky gear, which I thought was cool at first. But then I found out that is because a lot of Canadians will just randomly pick a college team to cheer for because they aren’t into their own college sports. I have seen people wear a Kentucky shirt and Florida hat, and I have to tell them that’s just wrong. No UK group/bar here – except at my house!
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
I bought a Wildcats leash for my dog, so she sports that on a daily basis. My mom and family keep my husband and I well stocked with UK shirts, which we both wear a lot. Over the years I’ve worked a lot of Kentucky blue into my work outfits, so I can support the team when they’re playing during the week and I can’t wear one of my old t-shirts.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?
The hardest thing would be that until the Jets came back to Winnipeg, I felt like no one here could even comprehend the passion of the BBN. I still don’t think Jets fans are up to BBN level, but at least they can kind of understand where I’m coming from. The best thing is that even though we are in Canada, we get all the US TV channels, including oddly enough Peachtree TV out of Atlanta, so we get to watch plenty of games.
What has been your favorite memory as a UK fan?
My favorite memory has to have been the 1998 championship, when I was first old enough to really take it in and also remember. My second favorite is probably the door-watch before Calipari came to UK, because it just illustrates how crazy UK fans can be. I mean, we watched a door on a live feed for HOURS.
What do you do for games?
I’m very superstitious, so I have to wear a certain shirt and I make pimento cheese. Don’t ask me why, but I’m pretty sure it helps the team out.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
Nothing too crazy, although I have been in religious services before and followed on my phone, which is definitely frowned upon.
How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
I keep KSR on my Google Reader, so I get every post, and I follow a lot of local news on Twitter which makes it easier to keep up. And of course I talk with family and friends who keep me in the loop.
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
I don’t right now, but you’re giving me some interior decorating ideas for the guest room….
Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area? Any stories there?
My husband and I usually catch a game when we are in Kentucky for Christmas. The first game we went to, my husband said, “Oh this is what you were talking about.” He was very impressed with the level of knowledge from everyone and with the various traditions (including the Y!). I think that finally converted him over and now he is sometimes even more intense than me.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
It’s a novelty for folks up here. They ask questions about who our rivals are and of course get hung up on the way I pronounce “Louisville.”
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
It’s easier now to follow along with everything on the internet – facebook, twitter, live blogging, etc – and I think it will be even easier in the future with some crazy thing no one has thought of yet. And even if you think there will be no UK fans where you’re moving, maybe you’ll be able to convert someone – my husband is a pretty hardcore UK fan now.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
I happened to be in Kentucky in March 2010, so my friend and I bought tickets to the Final Four in Indianapolis in the hopes that UK would be in. Of course, we weren’t in that year, but my friend and I went anyway. We decided to wear all black since we didn’t want anyone to confuse us for Duke fans wearing blue. A ton of people asked us if we were UK fans, our mourning was pretty obvious.