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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Chinese Culture Seen Through Olympic Rings - Page 2

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: Describe your duties as an Olympic committee member.

Jenna Lebel, Beijing, China, 2008 Summer Olympics, living in china, olympics volunteer, china exchange program, Chinese cultureJL: I was an Olympic volunteer – one of 100,000 altogether. There were only 300 international people and all the rest were Chinese. My responsibilities were to provide assistance to photographers and journalists throughout the Olympics. We gave them directions to venues organized press conferences, shuttle busses, and had all that information in the event that they would need access to it.

inTravel: What was one of your most memorable experiences?

JL: It’s difficult to pick just one. But I think the most memorable experience I had was on the night of the opening ceremonies. I watched from the Main Press Center’s (MPC) hotel lobby along with one of my Emerson friends. We watched on a big-screen TV accompanied by about 10 Chinese workers and 6 other foreigners. Our location was just minutes from where the action was taking place, so whenever the fireworks were set off, we ran out and watched them light up the sky above us.

The best part was seeing the expressions on the faces of the Chinese as they watched China’s seven years of planning truly pay off. I’ve never seen so much pride in a group of people in my life. As the U.S. athletes marched on the track, our new Chinese friends stared at my friend and me as they clapped and cheered for the American athletes. They were so happy, it was as if seeing the red, white and blue flag circle the track was as exciting as seeing Yao Ming being escorted by the earthquake survivor.

Jenna Lebel, Beijing, China, 2008 Summer Olympics, living in china, olympics volunteer, china exchange program, Chinese cultureTowards the end of the opening ceremonies, my friend and I set off to the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), where the spectacle was taking place. As we walked towards the stadium, we ran into all of the athletes from around the world as they were leaving the venue after their parade around the track. Through high-fives and ‘good lucks,’ we managed to see high-profile athletes like Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming and Lebron James. It was truly an unforgettable experience—one of the most memorable ones in China.

inTravel: What was most challenging?

JL: The language barrier was a huge challenge to overcome at first just because we were so used to speaking English freely. We didn’t encounter too may people who spoke English, which made getting in a taxi and ordering in a restaurant difficult. I also think it was challenging just being the minority and noticeably so. You can go to Europe and blend in somewhat; I’ve never been somewhere where it’s so obvious that I don’t fit in. Even in the first few days we were there everyone would stare at us and take pictures with us. It was like we were this obscure species.

inTravel: How did your expectations meet the reality of living in Beijing?

JL: Actually I had really low expectations. I guess I had the same perceptions a lot of people have of China: I was very much scared and concerned with theft and poverty and I wasn’t prepared for the actually beauty of China. Once I realized how beautiful the country actually was, it was really easy to surpass those original perceptions. I felt completely opposite of how I felt going into it. The pollution wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I felt extremely safe.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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