At every Olympic Games, pretty much the only way organizers are able to accomplish what they set out to accomplish is with the help of thousands of volunteers. In Pyeongchang, those volunteers are seemingly everywhere and by and large are doing their hosts proud. Volunteers have been smiling, pleasant, informative and a large percentage of them speak English.
PyeongChang Organizing Committee received a tremendous response from their volunteer recruitment. A reported 91,000 South Koreans people applied, of which 41,350 received interviews. From there, an estimated 16,200 volunteers were selected. (The total number of volunteers is upwards of 22,000 when foreign applicants are factored into the equation; in addition, there were more than 5,000 “group” volunteers including a large contingent of sports management students from George Washington University.) Criteria for selection among the large group of South Koreans who applied included volunteer experience, commitment to the Games and basic knowledge of PyeongChang 2018. The most requested spots were general operations, broadcasting, interpretation and language services, spectator support and “weather services.”
Two examples of their service come to mind based on my experience in Pyeongchang. The first came during the Opening Ceremony, where a volunteer stationed to the media section was there to guide people to their correct seats, but also managed to have a good time. During the parade of nations, which seems to last forever—especially in single-digit temperatures—the volunteer in our section was dancing along with other volunteers on the field whose job it was to sway to the music during the entirety of the marching. Our volunteer in the stands couldn’t have been enjoying himself much more than he was.
But the other came one early evening as I was waiting for a bus from the media center back to the media village housing. The temperature was below zero that afternoon when factoring in the wind chill and I had just missed the bus prior, meaning it would be about 30 minutes until the next one rolled along. The volunteer stationed at the bus terminal took out her phone and informed me with a smile that it would be another 25 to 30 minutes until the next bus came. I lamented the wait given the conditions, as did several others who had strolled to the station right behind me. Eventually, of course, the bus came and I welcomed the warmth that its cabin provided. Then I looked back out the window at the volunteer, realizing she probably had several hours left on her shift standing out there in the frigid conditions.
Volunteers receive a warm jacket that they can keep and they of course get the pride of knowing they contributed to a successful event. But the tradeoff is they have to deal with whatever conditions present themselves—fun times like the Opening Ceremony or lesser fun times like standing in the cold for hours. And in Peyongchang, the volunteers are helping to make for a successful event on the ground.