Friday, August 15, 2008

Once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve

The Chinese capital is swarming with an army of 70,000 young volunteers, hundreds of them from overseas, who are helping foreign tourists and media visiting for the Olympics.

The volunteers, acting as goodwill ambassadors, are visible everywhere dressed in bright blue and white polo shirts - outside sports venues, on sidewalks and at bus stops and subway stations.

Their task is to shepherd the estimated 500,000 foreigners expected for the Games' 16-day run, as well as provide help to thousands of media staff covering the Games.

Most of the volunteers, who are working for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, or BOCOG for short, have been drawn from all corners of China, but at least 300 of them have paid their own way from overseas for what they see as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sarah Scott, a 21-year-old University of North Carolina student, got her first glimpse of China by volunteering to help out at the Games.

"To me, it's an awesome adventure, and I'm going to learn so much and meet new people and see sports at the highest level," said Scott, who shelled out US$1,800 to travel to Beijing.

"I just couldn't imagine anything better," said Scott, who is among 300 international volunteers that BOCOG recruited from universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia to help provide media services at various Olympic venues.

Unlike other host countries, which usually rely on their own nationals, China chose to rely on foreign students to ensure there would be high-quality services for international media.

Scott said the six Chinese students she works with at the help desk in the Main Press Center speak varying degrees of English, but with her mother-tongue and proficiency in Spanish, and another French-speaking volunteer, her team is able to quickly field questions thrown at them.

To prepare for her job, senior journalism student Scott arrived about a month before the Games began last Friday for onsite training. Organizers also gave international volunteers a crash course in Chinese culture.

"They took us on a long weekend trip to the Great Wall, Summer Palace and brought us to eat Peking duck," she said.

Scott also made her own preparations. She met with other volunteers from her university every week, starting in January, to learn about Chinese history, culture and politics, as well as some simple Mandarin. The volunteers are given free lodging and meals in Beijing's universities, but otherwise being an Olympic "ambassador" is done at their own expense.

Source :shanghaidaily

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