What an incredible few weeks this experience has been. In spite of the long hours, sleepless nights and truly Arctic temperatures I would not trade my time or experiences in PyeongChang.
With my career aspirations focused on a life working in sponsorship or marketing partnerships surrounding large sporting events I started this journey with an all business focus. I quickly learned that your time at the Olympics is what it needs from you rather than what you thought you needed from it. It was in embracing that idea that I found so many amazing experiences I never could have imagined, made some fantastic new friends and met some incredible people from around the world.
Coming from a small town in North Carolina where I spent most of my life rarely straying from state lines, it is hard to describe the value in an experience like this one. From the wealth it has added to my life from a cultural awareness perspective to the fantastic business leaders we had the opportunity to meet that could have a monumental impact on my future - the entire experience has just been phenomenal.
Collecting data for the IOC was certainly one of the least glamour positions I’ve been fortunate enough to hold down, but the privilege of the opportunity and all that came with it was certainly not lost on me.
I feel so grateful to the IOC, Dr. Neirotti, Lisa C, the people of Korea and all those I met throughout my Olympic journey for making this an experience that will last a lifetime.
On the final day of the Olympics one of the most watched, yet least well known, events takes place - known as the Olympic Figure Skating Exhibition Gala. The event is build as a non-competitive showcase that allows the Olympic figure skaters an opportunity to skate through a song of their choice simply as a performance piece, no medals here. Some skaters use this as a moment to showcase their best tricks, while others use it as a moment to draw a few laughs from the crowd.
The event was wall to wall when we arrived with almost every seat filled. I particularly enjoyed Spainish skater Javier Fernandez’s routine, which was set to a soundtrack of the 80s best aerobic songs. His costume transitioned from sweats to a super hero set up; he had the entire crowd laughing throughout his performance.
Other skaters used the platform to deliver chillingly beautiful performances of skill and poise while others used it as an opportunity to pay homage to their country. One skater even took the opportunity to showcase his affinity for Spider-Man by Skating to the Spider-Man theme song remixed by Michael Buble.
You got the feeling watching them perform that for some it was a bittersweet moment to show the world what they can do one last time and for others it was simply a victory lap capping off the end of their Olympic experience.
It was hands down one of my favorite experiences from my time in PyeongChang.
Throughout my time in PyeongChang there have been several moments that transcended the cultural and language barriers. I had one of those moments Tuesday night while I was working a transport shift, essentially counting people on and off buses, at the Gangneung Media Village.
I began to notice that all of the volunteers seemed to have gone inside - which if you spend anytime here you know NEVER happens. While walking up to a different section for buses I happened to walk by the ticketing office and there they all were, crammed inside around the TV. I walked up to the glass and realized they were all watching the women's short track competition. I had the pleasure of watching the short track in person last week so I immediately understood what all the excitement was about. Namely, Choi Min-jeong, and her status as world #1 for short track as well as her achievements at the current games - already logging a gold medal for Korea in the 1500m short track.
The girls inside noticed me watching and invited me to come inside with them. I felt like this was a moment worthwhile of abandoning my post counting so I took them up on the offer and I am so glad that I did. We were watching the 3000m relay and the competition did not disappoint. The match was filled with penalties that left everyone on the edge of their seat until final results were announced. Team Korea ultimately took gold and the girls were ecstatic, screaming and a couple even shed a tear.
It was a goosebumps moment for me and they even took the liberty of teaching me a cheer - accepting my broken attempt at Korean as an A for effort undoubtedly. They allowed me to take a photo of them before I went back to counting, which I shared below, such an awesome moment!
When traveling to a foreign country with a language gap as substantial as the one between the English and Korean languages there are certain communication challenges that everyone expects. However, before arriving in Korea I did not expect to report back that finding a taxi would become one of my greatest daily struggles.
The schedule of morning meetings and shift with the IOC for our data collection responsibilities frequently mean that we need to leave our residence at 6:00 or 7:00am - we have an option for a 30 minute walk or a quick taxi ride into the Olympic Park where we can transfer over to the Olympic bus system. If there is anything worse than being awake for work at 6:00am it is having to walk 30 minutes in the freezing cold to get there (or walk that same 30 minutes after a grueling 8 hour data shift).
However, there is no Uber in PyeongChang - a reality that settled slowly upon arrival. There is an option to call a taxi; however, you need to be able to speak Korean. The resolution we have found to the language barrier is to employ the help of our local CVS, or "CU" workers to call the cabs for us. I can only imagine that they will be relieved when we head back to our home countries! However they have been immeasurably helpful to us thus far.
Unlike in the States, there is also frequently a shortage of cabs, which can make it almost impossible to find one during peak hours. After an eight hour transport shift in the cold I can only imagine some of the PyeongChang cab drivers have seen the scrappiest sides of all of us GW students.
Communicating a destination to the cab driver becomes the next battle once a taxi is officially located. However, this is another area where innovation has been our friend. One local cab driver provided the Korean translation for the address of our residence that has worked like magic ever since. We have no idea what it says but it always gets the thumbs up and takes us home!
While on sight here in PyeongChang we have had so many amazing privileges. Through meetings with executives and organizers to coveted access to traditionally off limits areas we have really received the VIP treatment.
Today we were given the opportunity to visit the Olympic International Broadcast Center, or as we have come to know it the “IBC.”
The IBC serves as a central transportation hub for the buses we rely on to reach all of the different venues, so there is rarely a day we are not crossing through its parking lot. Another known fact amongst all of the volunteers is that IBC is also the coldest of all locations within the repertoire of venues the IOC has scattered our data collection shifts.
The chance to step in side the mammoth (and well heated) venue we’ve grown accustom to standing outside was one we all looked forward to. With pictures being restricted on the inside it is one of the venues we know the least about.
Essentially the IBC acts as the central broadcasting hub for the Olympics. Operated by the OBS it is here that networks around the globe purchase broadcast rights.
Larger networks, like NBC for America, also purchase a share of the real estate within the IBC so they can bring their broadcast and production teams on sight. Smaller networks are able to tap into OBS coverage through external hubs they have scattered throughout the globe.
Many of the rooms we toured inside the IBC function as a data point for coverage as well as archiving footage from events that have wrapped. There are also a few innovative tech pop ups scattered throughout the building that we were able to experience like a virtual reality ride taped from athletes in the PyeongChang games.
It doesn’t take long once you arrive to an Olympic host city to realize that you are suddenly family with everyone sharing this experience with you. You can expect to find yourself saying, “what a small world” on nearly a daily basis as you uncover the commonalities and connections you share with those also present for the games.
I had one of those moments Tuesday when a friend from college messaged to tell me that her boyfriend and his father were also in PyeongChang. As part of my Olympic-experience family she connected the two of us and with a struck of luck I found they had two extra tickets for the night’s short track competition.
I had not had the opportunity to witness an event outside of my IOC responsibilities so I was especially excited about the opportunity. Arriving to the oval we made it to our seats just in time to witness the qualifying rounds.
It is amazing how fast you can become an expert in critiquing a sport you’ve never watched before.
The competition was incredible. Outside of an injury to Great Britain’s Elise Christie the competition was electric.
Witnessing world #1, and Korean athlete, Choi Min-jeong, win gold in front of home country and crowd was an especially exciting point in the night. Definitely one of those Olympic experiences you know may be once in a lifetime.
Ever since the Olympic games official commenced, one of the most notable elements I have taken away from the activities each day is the conscious effort that has been given to ensuring Korean culture is represented. In each of the separate venues there are free Korean cultural displays or interactions available for those in the area. Personally each of these experiences I have stumbled across are also free of charge - making them even more difficult to pass up.
Today during my shift to collect transportation data at the Athlete Village I had the opportunity to have my portrait done in Korean caricature style. The artist who worked on my caricature was a treat to speak with while he worked and I know that I will keep the finished product forever. In return for his generosity I rewarded him with one of our GW Winter Trek pins; pins act almost as currency in the Olympic world.
The excitement for sharing elements of Korean culture with those of us in PyeongChang for the games is not confined to the gates of the Olympic parks. Yesterday while exploring the area and businesses surrounding our accommodations, which are about a mile from the main Olympic park, I had the pleasure of interacting with several business owners who were so excited to have me in their shops or viewing their work.
I passed one small store with calligraphy art for sale and decided to stop in to take a better look. While in the store I realized they did custom work and decided I wanted to commission a few simple pieces to take home. After the store owner connected me with her daughter via phone for translation, I was able to have her create a couple of really amazing postcards that I also plan to keep forever.
When I tried to pay for the work the woman refused and her daughter explained that the purpose of her shop was to help spread Korean culture during the games. Moments of generosity like this are becoming the norm rather than the exception of the Korean people. I again provided a GW winter pin as a small token of my thanks for the beautiful work.
A visit to the USA Olympic house is an experience limited to a small number of fortunate individuals. As the house is not open to the general public, entrance typically requires that you be either a current, or former, US Olympic athlete or an invited sponsor of Team USA. As my athletic prowess has never been up to par for any Olympic sport and my student bank account limits my ability to provided generous donations, I felt extremely honored by the opportunity to visit and experience the inside of USA House.
The simple USA decorations perfectly accented the feel of the structure that the USOC has chosen to take over for the Winter Olympics here in Pyeongchang. Sitting on the side of the mountain, the room had the feel of a ski lodge and the red, white and blue provided a perfect accent to the primarily wood interior.
During our visit we had the pleasure of meeting with Team USA Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird. Ms. Baird gave us an in depth glance at the marketing efforts of Team USA and how this experience has evolved through the decades and varying Olympic games. Ms. Baird also pointed out that as a nod to their sponsors they chose to have them each decorate a sled that they have used to decorate the walls of USA House. This activation allows their sponsors a presence within the house, but in a manner that provides a more natural fit for the look and feel of this venue.
Before we departed the USA snowboarding team passed by on their way up the mountain and gave us all a wave. Definitely a once in a lifetime moment!
Prior to arriving in PyeongChang, I took the opportunity to visit an authentic Korean spa - Dragon Hill Resort & Spa. Dragon Hill is located in the heart of Seoul and boasts a reputation as one of Seoul's top tourist attractions; ranking in the top 5 for Korean spa experiences on several tourism blogs.
Arriving at the spa was an experience alone. The building is beautifully decorated with elaborate chandeliers and carved molding. In keeping with Korean culture, the first stop is a small locker to secure your shoes before proceeding through the spa.
Believe it or not, on the other side of those doors you are greeted with an arcade filled with games, air hockey and virtual reality rides. It is from this floor the host escorts you to the elevator that takes you to the changing room; where the spa provides a uniform for use during your stay. The spa is 24/7 and you are permitted to stay for 12 hours with each entrance to the spa.
There are multiple areas and spa rooms throughout Dragon Hill; my first stop was with the masseuse for a traditional Korean massage. There is certainly a difference between the experience of an American massage and that of a traditional Korean massage, which is much more aggressive. They work every kink of your muscles to a point that leaves you sore for a couple of days but in the best possible way.
Post massage, the next stop was in two of Dragon Hill's spa rooms - the pyramids. The first pyramid is heated and filled with a mixed of Korean herbs, which are burned to fill the air with their medicinal benefits. The second pyramid is heated a few degrees above the other and elaborately decorated with jade for energy. Patrons of the spa use these rooms for rest, mediation and warmth.
In addition to the pyramid spa rooms, Dragon Hill also offers a Hinoki Woodland room - build to simulate the relaxation of resting in the forest. As well as, an ice room and a Pine Tree Fire Wood Sauna, which is constructed as a clay cave and heated even hotter than the pyramid spa rooms.
My last stop was in the Chrystal Sun Salt room. Which is a beautiful stone sauna filled with crystals and dimly lit by salt crystal lamps, which are said the energize your body and boost your bio-energy.
Outside Dragon Hill also offers a heated pool that adds to their offering of places for patrons to escape the harsh Korean winters and rest and restore within Dragon Hill's serene landscape.
The experience was a true cultural emersion and a step outside of my American comfort zone. It was out of the norm to see people lying along the heated floors of the Dragon Hill spa rooms as they relaxed with their friends - not a sight you would expect to see within an American spa.
However, I could feel the excitement amongst my Korean host and fellow patrons at sharing this experience with me. I would highly recommend a visit to any and all that will be traveling to Seoul!
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