Volunteering at the Olympics

With the 2022 Winter Olympics underway in Beijing, we were reminded of when one of our staff members volunteered at a previous Olympic Summer Games in the same city.

William Gao is one of our translation project managers.  William was born in China and is bilingual in Chinese and William Gao at 2008 Beijing OlympicsEnglish. He volunteered at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.  At that time, he was still pursuing a Bachelor degree in English Language, Literature and Culture at Beijing International Studies University.  He reflected in 2019 on his experience as an Olympic volunteer:

My position during the Olympic Games was not as an interpreter. Instead, I served as a “Venue Protocol Assistant” at the “VIP Lounge/Stands” of the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gym.  Our duty was to receive distinguished guests from all countries, including former US President George W. Bush. Of course, those distinguished guests from other countries do not speak Chinese. So we communicated with them in English, so it is kind of “interpretation” if you would like to say so. For example, they may have questions about touring Beijing, about the games, about how to get to certain places in the gym, etc.

We were trained for more than a year before the Olympic Games began. The training we received included:

  • We went through several rounds of selection at the college. We were given courses about the game, manners, Western culture, etc. We went through a few rounds of tests at the school, and only those who passed all of the tests got the chance to volunteer at the Olympics.
  • We went to different Olympic venues for tours. At that time, some venues were still under construction.
  • We got assigned to different venues and different tasks/jobs. I was assigned to the Beijing Basketball Gym.
  • About six months before the Olympic Games began in 2008, Beijing held a similar world wide sports event named “Good Luck Beijing Sports Event.” During that time, I was assigned as a volunteer at the basketball gym for about two months to get familiar with the venue and got experience in how to handle different situations. We had to skip classes at school to be trained at the gym during that time (of course skipping classes for the event was granted by the school leader/teachers).
  • Before the beginning of the Olympic Games, we were trained another few weeks at the basketball gym and helped decorate the VIP Lounge/Stands, etc.
  • The basketball gym was not close to our school. It took about 1.5 hours by public transportation or 50 minutes by car. As a college student, we lived on the college campus. So we usually left school early in the morning, and arrived back at our dormitory at school late at night. Sometimes, the school would arrange buses for our convenience.

We are very proud of William for being such a great cultural ambassador. Thank you, William, for sharing your Olympic experience.


This article was initially published in 2019. Updated 2022. View the initial blog.