On September 15th, 2016, I applied for the volunteer work in Pyeongchang Olympic Games. After that, I had an interview in the Volunteer Center and finally was positioned in Gangneung Oval last October. Since I was eagerly looking forward to starting the volunteer work, the reality of the treatment of volunteers I faced was quite shocking to me. The more time I spent in Gangneung, the more I could understand the complaints from the volunteers. Pyeongchang Olympic Games might have been an enjoyable international event and a great opportunity for some volunteer
s but some others suffered for a lot of reasons.
“Volunteers had to face problems even before the Olympic Games started!”
Going back to the time when I had an interview, I remember the interviewer who asked me and other applicants, said, “The conditions for volunteers would be very bad. Can you bear it?” As the date of an interview was a year ago, I could not but think ‘Is not one year enough time to improve the situation even just a little bit?’
When we first applied for the volunteer positions, we were asked to choose three tasks and venues we wanted to work in. There were seven parts including games information, operational support, media, technology, protocol and languages, sport and medical services. Pyeongchang, Gangneung, and Jeongseon were the three venues we could choose. Before the volunteers were informed of the final task and venue for the Olympic Games, we had to take two basic training programs. Lots of volunteers were waiting for the results with great expectations, but the results of the volunteer work placement from the Olympic Organizing Committee (O.O.C) made a number of volunteers disappointed. They were assigned to the task they had never applied for.
One of the applicants, blogger Victory, who applied for “Sport” but was finally assigned to “Transportation,” decided to give up the volunteer work. She said, “I have not been notified of any information that my task has been changed during the entire training sessions. I thought, of course, I would work in the “Sport field.” As she was not the only one who had dissatisfaction with the unexpected placement, the O.O.C made an announcement through the website “Pyeongchang 2018 Volunteer Home.” According to the announcement, the demand of labor force, the committee first expected, was incorrect. The transportation field deprived of 1,600 volunteers, but as a total, 2,000 people exceeded. This demonstrates that the committee failed to estimate the demand of the labor force in advance not even close to the real figure. Blogger Victory added “Although I sent an email and called the committee consistently to know the reason with the placement problem, it took a long time to get an answer from them. The committee answered that they had to assign group applicants by priority, because they are more specialized than others. However, I still cannot understand the specialty is needed in managing the stadium.” At first, even if she could not accept the answer from the committee, she tried to do the volunteer work. The decisive reason she abandoned the volunteer role was the difficulties volunteers had to confront after this problem.
Inconvenience of distributing uniforms
The trouble started with the distribution of uniforms and AD (Accreditation) cards. The volunteer work of the Olympic Games went along in Pyeongchang, Gangneung, Incheon, and Jeongseon. Though, the Pyeongchang Uniform Distribution and Main Accreditation Centre (UAC) was the only place we could get the uniform and AD card. On February 7th, I had to spend the whole day taking the subway, train and buses to get uniforms and move in to the dormitory. I took the KTX to go to Jinbu Station. Then, I went to UAC by bus about an hour and waited for the shuttle for two hours to go to the dormitory in Goseong. After a long journey, at 8:30 P.M., I finally arrived at the dormitory. According to the time I left home, it took exactly eight hours just to get the uniform and check-in. Volunteers who live far from Pyeongchang might have been through a worse time than I had.
Another problem appeared in the UAC. On January 23rd, the O.O.C sent email to volunteers requesting not to receive a different size of the uniform we first chose in the demand survey. Volunteers tended to receive bigger sized uniforms to wear more clothes inside so size L and XL were lacking. When I entered the UAC, I could only wear XS, S, and M size that I did not choose in the demand survey. Also, women volunteers were recommended to choose the uniform among these three sizes. People who wanted to get the same size with the demand survey could not avoid receiving different sizes. In addition, 250 and 260 size of the boots which were included in the uniform ran out of stock. The committee asked for volunteers to bring their own winter shoes and notified that there will not be any extra supply. Consequently, in “Pyeongdaejeon,” a facebook page where volunteers of this Olympic Games share their thoughts and stories, it was easy to find people who want to exchange their boots size of 250 or 260.
Volunteers protested the committee to receive better treatment
Before the Olympic Games, many volunteers complained about the bad treatment they received and further, took actions to fix the problems. On February 3rd, six days before the Pyeongchang Olympic Games began, the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony was going to be held. The day before, 60 volunteers who were supposed to participate in the rehearsal had to wait for the bus in the cold too long. This made the participants’ anger explode reminding them of their constant poor conditions. As a result, they announced the boycott of the rehearsal. Among them, three volunteers visited the office of the O.O.C as representatives and demanded for better treatment of volunteers.
In response to this, the next day, Lee Hee-beom, the Organizing Committee President & CEO, issued an appeal. According to the appeal, the committee recently increased the number of shuttle buses and arranged 100 reserve buses to improve transportation ability. Also, they provided better services in other parts such as accommodation and working conditions. He mentioned, “I recognize that these solutions cannot eliminate every inconvenience. However, I promise the O.O.C will listen to the opinions from the work force and try our best to rectify the situation.” Though, different from what the committee desired, even after the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, problems still emerged.
Volunteers are waiting for the shuttle bus in the workforce load zone over an hour at midnight.
/Photograph by Seo Yoo-jeong
Unstable shuttle bus system occured by the lack of communication
Imagine you must wait for the bus to go home in winter when it is cold and windy weather after you worked hard. Considering the days I waited hours for the bus to dormitory, the shuttle bus system was one of the most serious problems. Many volunteers had to shiver in the cold more than an hour while waiting for the bus to the dormitory. However, it is hard to say the cause of this problem belongs to the drivers’ fault. I heard lots of bus drivers complaining about their situation.
One day, the shuttle bus’s arrival to Gangneung Oval which I took was delayed. Volunteers in the bus including me were a bit annoyed as we were going to be late for work. Since we realized he did not receive updated navigation, we could not blame the driver. All he did was follow the navigation given to him. Another bus driver I met mentioned he was informed to arrive in 50 minutes according to the manual but the time was incorrectly predicted. Hence, it actually took about 70 minutes to arrive and was unavailable to follow the manual. Plus, he was confused because the course he was allotted changed every day. Since the shuttle bus system was unstable and not managed efficiently, it seemed it was nearly impossible to depart and arrive on time as the arranged schedule.
In addition, the location of the dormitory for volunteers made the situation more complicated. Pyeongchang and Gangneung where most games were held had a lack of accommodation. Most of the dormitories in the two cities were provided for VIP, foreign guests, and athletes. Therefore, volunteers had to stay over one-hour distance away in places such as Goseong, Sokcho and Hoengseong. Kwon Bo-sung (22), a volunteer of the Olympic Games, said, “My work always finished at night because it was indoor games. After work, I was totally exhausted, so I really wanted to go back to the dormitory and take a rest. But I had to spend over an hour in the bus. If the dormitory was located closer, I would have felt less tired. The commuting time was more stressful than the hardness of work.”
Even worse, in my case, not to wait an hour for the next bus, I often had to run to the bus station right after the work finished.Considering that over 50 volunteers had to take the same bus to go back, I still cannot understand operating only one 45-seater bus.
As the problem became severe, the transportation department of the O.O.C started to run a 24 hours bus call center. Different from the past, if the bus did not come I could have called the call center and know when the bus comes not just waiting for it. Also, the system of the transportation became stabilized as the time goes by and lastly not all the complaints about transportation from volunteers disappeared but fairly reduced.
Sacrifice of volunteers has made satisfying Olympic Games
On February 25th, the Pyeongchang Olympic Games was over with great outcome and ranked seventh in the final medal rankings. Also, my volunteer work has ended. Through this Olympic Games, we had a chance to get to know new sports like skeleton, curling, bobsleigh, and snowboarding unlike the past when we were mostly interested in skating event.
Invisible efforts of volunteers were behind to successfully end the Olympic Games. As volunteers were assigned to a lot of tasks and venues, there were additional problems such as improper attitude of managers and poor conditions of dormitories. However, except these problems, the common ones I wrote above such as work placement, distribution of uniforms, and transportation show that how many volunteers had to work in bad situations. I cannot deny that the volunteer work in the Pyeongchang Olympic Games was invaluable experience to me. I met good people and learned a lot in such a big international event. However, since I had big expectation as a volunteer, the reality disappointed me, too. Taking this trial and error as an opportunity, if other international event will be held in Korea some day, I hope the treatment of volunteers who want to be of help with good heart would be better. Goodbye Pyeongchang!
Soohorang, the mascot of 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games.
/Photograph by Seo Yoo-jeong
Seo Yoo-jeong firstname.lastname@example.org
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