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Saturday, 05 July 2008

Chinese Culture Seen Through Olympic Rings - Page 3

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 did you do to learn the language and how comfortable were you using it?

JL: Once the 33 students from Emerson were chosen, we were required to take a class the semester beforehand that covered Chinese culture and Mandarin and then another half of it was journalism-related. Learning the language beforehand was actually very helpful. We learned basic greetings, directions, things to say at a restaurant like how to order, get a check - very practical everyday things you would need to know. I definitely learned a lot more Mandarin when I was actually in China. I was very fortunate where I worked at the MPC since most of the volunteers were Chinese (only the 3 Emerson kids were Western). During our shifts they would take time to teach me Mandarin an hour or two a day and I’d teach them some English.

inTravel: Describe your interaction with the native Chinese people.

JL: We had a lot of interaction with Chinese volunteers because there were so many of them and so few of us Americans at the venue. There were 12 in our group, and we worked so closely together and became so close. They were extremely kind and generous. I think they were really happy to have Americans working for the Olympics; they take a lot of pride in their country and were happy to see I was excited to be there. They were really interested in learning about our culture and I was interested in theirs.

Jenna Lebel, Beijing, China, 2008 Summer Olympics, living in china, olympics volunteer, china exchange program, Chinese cultureIn terms of interactions with the Chinese in general, I was very surprised at how welcoming they were as a whole - even in everyday interactions with them. Whenever people in the street would see us they always assumed we were American so they wanted to take pictures with us and talk to us. They were also very willing to help us if we were lost or needed anything. I never really had a bad experience with the Chinese in everyday experience – even with taxi drivers. I think they were more accepting of us Emerson students, because we were embracing their culture and language. We accepted how things were and we attempted to speak Mandarin to them and I think they responded well to that.

inTravel: What struck you about the culture that was vastly different from that of the US?

JL: I was very surprised by how much national pride they had in China. It seemed like no matter where we went in Beijing or outside the city, everything was about the Olympics and they were so excited about everything and were anxious to hear what we (Americans and everyone around the world) thought about it. They really wanted to show China in a positive light.

Another thing that struck me was something I knew going into my trip, but was surprised to see first hand. There was such a lack of constitutional freedom, whether it be press, speech, or religion. For example, at the end of our time working there, we were required to fill out this evaluation of our experience there, and cite what was good, bad, and needed improvement. Being an American and having the right to criticize essentially anything, I evaluated critically and voiced my honest opinions. When I was done, I compared mine to my Chinese co-workers, who in the past had voiced discontent with some things; however their evaluations showed that they were completely happy with everything. When they realized what I wrote, they commented on how brave I was and how they could never do that. I assumed that it was looked down upon for the Chinese to speak poorly of something, whether it was provoked or not.

inTravel: Did you find that you had more Chinese or American friends?

JL: I found I had a pretty even mix. I became very close with Emerson students because I was living in the dorms with them (it was international dorm). Some of the other colleges that sent students were Mizzou, Iowa State, Perdue, Emerson, UNC, and in my dorm we were with Perdue and an Australian school. The fact that I was living in a dorm with them made us grow close. We were all experiencing the same thing: culture shock and we felt like the minority. So we all stuck together through that. The Chinese friends I made were co-workers and because I spent all day everyday with them, I was able to get to know each of them on personal level and form relationships with them.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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