I wake up in a two-roomed condo at Welli Hilli ski resort that I share with two other KIS-student volunteers and an older French lady. Most of my volunteer work was scheduled to be afternoon shifts so I could sleep in later than my usual school wake up time.
The resort provides free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to all Olympic/Paralympic volunteers, so those were our normal go-to meals. Quick confession though–most times, my roommates and I were too groggy in the morning to go down for breakfast, so we resorted to a quick bowl of cereal or some fruit.
I meet up with other KIS volunteers staying at the same resort to go and study for all the school work we’re missing. This is the cafe in the lobby of the resort that became our second home for the two weeks here. It has a mesmerizing view of the large ski resort that made all of our crammed studying less stressful. The ice cream was also super delicious, and all of us probably gained a couple pounds from our daily ice cream sessions.
After a couple hours of silent studying, we head over to the designated cafeteria for our lunch. The food is not the greatest, but it’s free food so nobody complains. We spend our entire lunch talking, and it’s amazing how upperclassmen who were strangers to me the day before quickly became my best friends.
After lunch, we get ready to ride the shuttle bus to the Olympic Village, which is where my volunteering location is. After gearing up in our full uniform (shown below), we head out to where the shuttle bus stops. It’s a long and winding road from our resort, and it’s more tiring than you think to walk 15 minutes down a snowy path in snow boots!
I arrive at the Olympic/Paralympic Village, ready to check in and start my shift. But before that, we have to walk some more to actually get to the entrance.
Everyone is required to go through a security screening, and they’re very picky about what types of drinks are allowed in. Apparently, Coke or Sprite is allowed but regular bottled water is not because Coca-Cola sponsors the Paralympics–I’m still bitter that I had to throw out quite a few bottles of water because of this rule.
After security, you walk out to this beautiful open space of all the flags of participating countries and many buildings. Athletes from all over the world are walking past you, and it’s very different to see such a diversity in a rather small area.
This is the entrance to the Olympic/Paralympic Village, where athletes and their coaches stay for the entire duration of the games. If you zoom in closely, you can see that country flags are hung upon on the windows of the buildings, representing the nationality of the athletes living in the room.
I work in a makeshift hospital in the center of this Olympic/Paralympic village, where all the athletes rely on for their physical and mental wellbeing. It’s composed of two floors, the basement, and the first ground floor. The basement is the home to the dentist, optometrist, and the acupuncture practitioner. The first floor is for more serious matters, including CT and x-ray machines, internal and external medicine doctors, and sports-trauma specialists.
(Unfortunately, I was unable to take any pictures of the hospital I work at because photography is forbidden to protect the privacy of athletes.)
This is the duration of my actual shift, where I work as a translator (the official title being ‘MED interpreter’) in the hospital to translate for the international athletes, coaches, and staff with the Korean doctors and nurses. Before my first day, I thought, how interesting can it get?? I mean, I’m only a translator. But immediately after my first couple of hours, I felt the massive effects of being part of such an important and influential international event.
Athletes from all over the world come to the hospital, and I, as a translator, am always the first one to greet them when they come through the door. People from English-centric countries, like the United States or Canada, are very happy to see a fluent English speaker in the midst of Koreans. Athletes from countries like Kazakhstan, China, or the Czech Republic, whose English is just at the point of communication, are just thankful that I am able to communicate with them.
It was wonderful meeting people from countries I’ve always longed to visit, like France or Italy, and countries that I’ve barely heard of before, like Andorra or Georgia.
The lively spirit of all the Paralympians, despite some physical setbacks they have, is more than enough to cheer me on throughout an exhausting day. It’s amazing how there are so many smiles passed around, even within the nurses and doctors.
Some people I talk with for a couple seconds before they are sent to an English-speaking doctor, but others I am able to create bonds with. I accompany some athletes throughout their entire duration in the hospital, starting from filling out the necessary forms, getting examined by the doctor, and receiving their necessary prescribed medicine. Although this process takes a maximum of around thirty minutes, it’s fascinating to hear about their childhood, what got them inspired to compete at an international scale, and their experience so far in Korea. Those thirty minutes are priceless; the thankfulness I receive from the athletes after I help them out is so rewarding.
It’s impossible to put into words my past two weeks of this volunteering experience, but I was full of awe, happiness, and fascination every single day.
During our 6 hour shift, we take turns going to dinner in this large dome that is divided into two–half for the athletes and half for the volunteers (pictured below is the volunteer-half of the done). Once again, the food isn’t top quality, but after hours of hard work, all we care about is filling our hungry stomachs. I’ve never experienced this myself, but rumor says that the volunteers can smell the steak sizzling in the athlete-half of the dome while we are greeted by the same food every day.
The shuttle bus that takes us back to our resort leaves the Pyeongchang village at 9:30, and as soon as our heads touch the seats of the bus, we fall into a short sleep for the 40-minute bus ride.
Usually, I’m exhausted and want to crawl under my covers right away, but sometimes, the entire KIS crew gathers to hang out after our evening shift. Once or twice during the two weeks, if we all have an off day or an afternoon shift the next day, we went to the pizza/chicken restaurant in our resort for an evening meal. After, we went for either a quick game of bowling or an hour of karaoke until we were completely exhausted. Those times are a special occasion, however, because most days, we gather at the cafe in the lobby to catch up on more school work. Before we know it, we’re the only ones left in the cafe, and the sound of typing and the flipping of papers is all that fills the empty space.
Thankfully, our rooms are just one elevator ride up from all the business down in the lobby, and we retreat back to our rooms to call it a night. Sharing the same condo with other KIS students for two weeks is surely a load of fun; whether it’s falling asleep on the sofa doing homework or chatting with each other in the dark.
I won’t remember all of the tiny details of my two weeks when I’m older, but what I will remember are the smiles I received from athletes all across the world, the friendliness of nurses and doctors that worked beside me, and the ups and downs that I went through with my fellow volunteers. Of course, missing quite a few days of school put me under a load of makeup work and stress, as well as having to give up going to many of my practices and games, but my experience of volunteering for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Paralympics is sincerely irreplaceable.