On Jan. 31, a group of 28 Shenandoah students and five faculty/staff members departed the U.S. for South Korea, where they volunteered for almost a month at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. The group returned on Feb. 27, with memories and skills that will last a lifetime.
Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Sport Management Fritz Polite, Ph.D., who is well-versed in international travel, lived outside the United States for 19 years and has worked at a wide variety of high-level sporting events, said the scope of the 2018 Winter Olympics was overwhelming.
“That doesn’t happen often to me,” said Polite, who co-led Shenandoah’s Olympic group along with Professor of Mass Communications and Lin Rong San Endowed Chair in Communications Gina Daddario, Ph.D.
In South Korea, Polite was able to see the students operate outside the classroom and found that they were professional and prepared for the tasks before them. “They’re really, really good,” he said.
Nineteen (17 undergraduate and two MBA) student participants came from the Byrd School, while nine hailed from the College of Arts & Sciences.
They all signed on for the trip through Shenandoah’s Global Experiential Learning program and volunteered in South Korea in various roles at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre.
“The most profound experience for me was the full cultural immersion of living in another country for a month – using mime and gesture as communication, watching the Olympics on Korean television, enjoying events for the sport and not the commentary, and learning to enjoy kimchi as a breakfast staple, among so many other things,” Dr. Daddario said.
“I have a whole new appreciation for the Korean culture,” said sport management major Kit Gould ’18, as she and several members of the group met with Shenandoah President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., and Vice President for Academic Affairs Adrienne Bloss, Ph.D., to provide them with gifts from South Korean Olympic officials and discuss the experience.
Gould said the Olympic experience helped her determine her career path. She said she now knows she wants to pursue operations and event management, and the Olympics were the perfect place to see a high-level international event in action.
Like several other members of the group, Gould developed friendships with Korean citizens. She’s still in touch with one person she met (and with whom she traded a Shenandoah T-shirt for a Korean Army one), and the pair plan to meet up again in the U.S. in two years.
Jared Lowry noted that he and Seyeoul, a Korean man he worked with in the biathlon office, became friends as they compared and contrasted their lives. Seyeoul was an ambassador of Korean culture for him, and they remain in contact, too.
They also ran into some U.S. team security members, who had actually trained in Winchester and knew about Shenandoah, one student said.
Dr. Fitzsimmons, who did not travel with the group, expressed her gratitude to the deans, faculty senate and academic leaders who all collaborated to make the trip — the brainchild of Dr. Polite – work. “It’s not a no-brainer,” she said. It required great flexibility, but all involved felt that transformative power of providing education in such a location was worth it. Dr. Bloss even traveled to South Korea in advance to help negotiate the trip. Director of International Programs Bethany Galipeau-Konate, D.Prof., who also received a gift from the group, said it was a pleasure to support the trip, and she added that she’s been a huge fan of the Winter Olympics since childhood.
Fitzsimmons also noted that the relationships newly forged by students at the Olympics are of the type that allowed Polite to help set up such an experience. They may be able to help the people they met one day, or vice versa.
“The most profound experience for me was the full cultural immersion of living in another country for a month,” Professor of Mass Communication Gina Daddario, Ph.D.
I can tell you all one thing, from my heart, they know Shenandoah was there. They rocked it.” —Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Sport Management Fritz Polite, Ph.D.
Aside from working at the Olympics, the groups also visited the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, appeared on WRC (NBC4) television out of Washington, D.C., and even popped up on NBC’s “Today” show.
However, those moments weren’t of the “pinch me, I’m dreaming” variety for mass communication major Damon Mackin ’18, who constantly filmed the group’s experiences. (He put together a series of six videos chronicling the trip, all of which can be seen on YouTube and at su.edu/olympics.) For him, as a member of the morning crew of volunteers, that “pinch me” moment came when he saw a bright red sun rise over mountains each day. He was thrilled with the entire trip, however. “I’m hoping that my kids can come here [to Shenandoah], and they can do the same thing,” Mackin said.
Watch Buzzin’ In South Korea | Video Mini Series by Damon Mackin ’18
For Jenna Rampale ’18, her “pinch me” moment came at the games’ closing ceremonies. Polite said he doesn’t think he’ll match the closing ceremony experience again. “It was that big,” he said. “I think we were all wowed by the magnitude and humanity of the Olympics, as we were just 33 students, staff and faculty from Shenandoah University, out of 20,000 volunteers from all over Korea and the world, performing seemingly minor tasks to keep the ‘magic’ of the industrial complex going,” Daddario added.
“I’m so glad I got to travel with you,” Director of Advising, for the College of Arts & Sciences and Instructor of Kinesiology Sarah “Salli” Hamilton, M.S., A.B.D., said to the students gathered for the culminating event. “[You] represented us so well.”
While the trip was what one student called “the most incredible experience that I’ve ever had,” it wasn’t easy. Some students hadn’t traveled internationally before. Everything from the showers to the light switches were different than they were at home. Some loved Korean food; others didn’t. And they were away from home for almost a month.
“This trip was hard,” acknowledged Bloss, who did not travel with the group. “But hard and awesome so often go hand in hand,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”
“This is the perfect way to end my studies here at Shenandoah,” said MBA student Casey Edsall, ’16, ’18, who delayed the completion of his graduate studies to take part in the trip. “The delay was worth it,” Fitzsimmons said. Edsall agreed.
As for Shenandoah, plans are already forming to take another group to the Olympics, this time to Tokyo, Japan, for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
Not only will students be participating in one of the greatest international events, but they’ll also be working alongside volunteers from all over the world. After spending nearly one month away from campus, living among an international community and managing their course work at a distance during these four weeks, students will be prepared for almost any work situation or challenge after they graduate! When a student goes for an interview and they can talk about their experience at the Olympics, it sets them apart from other individuals. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that and lead to many other opportunities in the future.”” —Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Sport Management Fritz Polite, Ph.D.