Foreign volunteers prep for Olympics
Foreign volunteers prep for Olympics
Melanie Sandbach flew across the Equator to get Beijing and was amazed to see young Chinese dressed in blue-and-white uniforms at the airport -- at 2 a.m.
It was, one might say, a wake-up call. "The Olympic volunteers are everywhere," said Sandbach, who is in her senior year at Newcastle University in Australia. "When I see the uniform, I feel a connection. I think I can do that, too."
Sandbach is one of the 292 volunteers for the Olympic News Service (ONS) for the coming Beijing Games. As of Thursday, all had arrived here and signed letters of commitment.
Beijing is to host 100,000 volunteers during the coming Olympics and Paralympics. Nearly 1,000 foreign volunteers have been picked from 22,000 applicants abroad.
Sandbach, who will work at the Judo and Taekwondo venue, said the sports were new to her. "It takes time to get to know things, but I'm ready to learn," she said. "The language is difficult at the moment but I'm trying."
Nick Compton, a journalism major from the University of Iowa in the United States, had already spent more than two years learning Chinese. He has a Chinese name -- Ke Yicheng -- literally meaning "honest branch".
He told Xinhua he paid about 1,500 U.S. dollars for a round-trip plane ticket between Chicago and Beijing. Meals and lodging during the Games will be provided free by the organizers.
Games organizers started to recruit and train foreign ONS volunteers in 2006. Iowa University was the first among nine contracted universities in the United States, Britain and Australia to send volunteers.
Compton said many of his fellow students had learned some Chinese language and culture when preparing for the Beijing tour.
Justin Guan, who was born in China and moved with his parents to the United States at age seven, could speak fluent Chinese.
"I came back to help," said Guan. "My language was a big advantage when I applied."
CATCH THE FLASH QUOTE
Marcus Shulz helped before. He was a volunteer reporter at the 2007 Junior World Wrestling Championships held here last August, a test event for the Beijing Games.
"The work was stressful but it was a GREat learning experience," said Schulz, recalling with pride the good story he wrote about an Israeli contestant.
As ONS volunteers, Schulz and his team members have to watch the events and make sure they get "flash quotes" after the event from the athletes for media use.
"They must catch each gold, silver and bronze medalist," said Zhu Songbo, pigeonhole supervisor at the National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, where 10 foreign and five Chinese volunteers will work together as flash quote reporters.
"The swimming competition goes fast, so they must move fast, too," said Zhu.
ONS volunteers were picked through interviews and tests, including writing or role playing in their home countries, by Games organizers. Most were journalism or public relations majors, and some had media internship experience.
They will receive two days of training organized by the ONS headquarters starting on July 15 and then get on-site training together with Chinese volunteers at venues till Aug. 8, when the Games are due to open.
Andre Bassman, who will serve both the Summer Games and Paralympics, said he was ready to help others as much as possible and serve the two events with the same passion. "I can do anything if needed." (More)
Summer of sports, service: Foreign volunteers prep for Olympics (2)
Apart from being surprised by the sight of the volunteers at 2 a.m., Sandbach was also impressed by Beijing"s airport. "It is fantastic, because the Sydney airport is quite small compared to this one."
The hot, humid weather here didn't bother Joshua Jerga, who left winter-time Australia to come to Beijing.
"This will probably be the longest summer I ever had, as when Igo back (to Australia) it will be warm again. I prefer summer," said Jerga, who told Xinhua he tried to keep an open mind when coming to Beijing.
"Beijing is absolutely lovely! Everyone seems so friendly, polite and warm, always smiling," he said. "Some have said the pollution is really bad. I don't think it is that bad. I can't complain at all."
Abbey Wright said she had read a lot about the Olympics and China but still wanted to see more. "I want to see the real China."
According to the schedule, Wright and her 39 classmates would be shown around the city's famous spots such as the GREat Wall and the Summer Palace. They'll also visit more mundane locations, such as a rural area and the Beijing Drainage Group, where they will see how waste water is re-used in the capital city.
There was food for the mouth such as Peking duck, dan dan noodles and kung pao chicken, and for thought -- Chinese calligraphy and Peking Opera. "We have Chinese lessons in our university but no calligraphy has been taught, so I want to make full use of this chance," said Cameron Coker, who spent a morning battling with an ink and brush pen at a calligraphy class in Tsinghua University.
"I love Chinese and other Asian cultures, they have such a different way of creating and imagining," he said.
Nightlife in Beijing is never boring. Marcus Schulz had a husky voice one morning during a cultural orientation week at Tsinghua University. "We went to drink last night. I shouted too much at the pub."
But Nick Compton was ready for inconvenience. His four-person family back in the States owned four cars and drove everywhere.
"I'm not looking for the same kind of things here. People who only want those things, they will be disappointed."
Jerga wanted something else. He will work at the Water Cube as a flash quote reporter-volunteer and Australian female swimming star Stephanie Rice is his dream catch.
"I will ask her if she is more nervous competing herself or watching her boyfriend compete," said Jerga. Rice's boyfriend is Eamon Sullivan, a 50-meter freestyle record-breaker.
Jerga said he, as an Australian, was mad about sports, recalling his sleepless nights in London in the summer of 2000 watching the Sydney Olympics on TV.
Sandbach said the Australian media started counting down for the Games a couple of months ago, "Australia is crazy about the Olympics."
Having been to the Sydney Olympic Games, she said Olympics gave people the feeling of community.
"It was amazing to go there to see people from all over the world in one sports event," said Sandbach. "I'm looking forward to that again."
"If I happen to meet the Australian athletes in the venue, I will support them," she said. "But I'm quite happy to talk to everyone (every athlete), not just someone from home."
Elinathan Ohiomoba from Iowa University said she fell in love with the Olympics when watching the 1996 Atlanta Games at age 10. She'll volunteer at the tennis venue this summer.
"I'm really happy that people from different cultures can come together because of the Olympics," said Ohiomoba, who is of Nigerian descent. "Nigerians will come, too."
The Atlanta Games also gave Coker the most abiding Olympics memory. It was the shining moment of gymnast Kerri Strug, when the18-year-old girl captured America's spirit by helping the U.S. team win gold.
"She fell on her first vault and injured her ankle, but she overcame the pain and made it. I was so moved," said Coker. "For me, the Olympics are the ultimate." (Liu Si and Li Jiangtao also contributed to this story)
Foreign volunteers prep for Olympics
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