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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Chinese Culture Seen Through Olympic Rings - Page 4

Written by Jessica Borges
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The traveler that journeys with an open mind and an eagerness to learn wherever he or she goes comes home with more than souvenirs and memory cards full of pictures; they come home with unparalleled experience. Despite cultural differences, language barriers and behavioral disparities, those that can find the beauty in these obstacles can appreciate the non-traditional splendor of travel. For Jenna Lebel, it is just this that made her experience in Beijing, China at the 2008 Summer Olympics a gratifying memory. An Integrated Marketing Communication graduate student at Emerson College in Boston, MA, Jenna applied for one of the 33 available spots at Emerson to work at the Olympics for two months as a volunteer. Her school was selected as one of five in the US to attend the Olympics, along with roughly 300 other international students and 100,000 volunteers in total.

inTravel: What were some of the things you did in your spare time when you weren’t working?

JL: I worked from 8am - 8pm every other day. We also trained during the first week we were there before the Olympics began. On the third day we were there, the Beijing Olympic Committee took all 300 international volunteers on a 3-day tour of Beijing and some of the surrounding areas. We got escorted around and basically had VIP treatment: having police escorts, we got to cut lines, and went to exclusive sites. We saw the Great Wall, Summer Palace, the Ming tombs, and the Beijing opera. Jenna Lebel, Beijing, China, 2008 Summer Olympics, living in china, olympics volunteer, china exchange program, Chinese culture I also had Peking duck, which was really good. The waiter cuts up the duck in front of you and puts it in something comparable to a spring roll.

After our three-day tour, any exploring I wanted to do, I had to do on my own or with groups. I spent time sight seeing, went to Tiananmen Square (the largest public square in world, home to the 1989 massacre) and Mao’s memorial/tomb was there. I also went to the Forbidden City, and went bungee jumping in Longqing Gorge (we were strapped in with Velcro straps!).The city is so big it seemed like everyday we stumbled upon new parts of it. There were a lot of cultural sites, museums, and shops. There wasn’t a day where we did nothing; we were always out seeing something. We took recommendations whenever we could get them and heavily relied on the guidebooks we brought.

inTravel: If you’ve done any traveling in the past, how was this trip different?

JL: The first time I went out of the country was for a two-week trip to Europe when I was a sophomore in high school. The trip was jam-packed with sight seeing excursions as we tried to fit London, Paris, Rome and Florence into fourteen days. As a junior in college, I spent 5 months studying on Australia’s Gold Coast. There, I explored several areas: Melbourne, Sydney, Byron Bay, the Outback, Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane and I even made it over to New Zealand and Fiji. My trip to China was different for several reasons. It was the first time I’ve visited a communist country, so I was given a glimpse of a society that operates completely different than the one I know.

Secondly, the language barrier was difficult to deal with at first. In Europe, I had no trouble getting by without speaking the language, but in China I had several frustrating experiences trying to communicate. It was also different because it was the first time I’ve ever been in a country and noticeably been a minority. In Europe and Australia, until I started speaking, I was assumed to be one of them. In China, my appearance clearly identified me as a Westerner.

inTravel: What did you miss most about the US while you were there?

JL: Aside from my family, I think I missed the little things that as Americans we often take for granted…like clean and drinkable tap water, being able to eat fruit and salad without hesitation, and western toilets and plumbing. Beyond that, I missed individual freedoms that as Americans we are guaranteed—freedom of press, speech and religion and access to information.

inTravel: Do you plan to go back, and if so, how?

JL: Very much so; I will definitely go back someday. I graduate from Emerson in December and am looking to get a job in a company that has an international presence, possibly in China, or even a company in China. The economy is booming in China and there’s a lot of potential there. I would definitely like to go back.

inTravel: How has the trip affected your life and you as a person?

JL: I think I brought back a lot. The trip definitely gave me an appreciation for a lot of different things, especially our [American] culture; I appreciate being an American in sense that I have all these rights and freedoms. It also made me appreciate the Chinese culture a lot. All we ever know and hear about China is always negative and I think having experienced living there first hand, I can now see that’s not always the case. There are a lot of good things there; I had a good experience and I know a lot more about their culture now. I gained independence and built character. You have to adapt and accept the way things are done there, whether you like it or not. Even interacting with the Chinese in my job improved my team building skills in a way. I also quickly noticed that the Chinese are a collectivist society: everything is done as a group and for the good of the group. It kind of gives you a bit of balance because as Americans, we’re so extremely individualist and they’re so collectivist. This kind of puts you in the middle group which is a good place to be.

Jenna Lebel is a graduate student at Emerson College in Boston, majoring in Integrated Marketing Communication. She is expected to graduate in December 2008.

© Jessica Borges

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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