Falmouth volunteer in Russia shares his thoughts on the Olympics

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After five weeks here as an international volunteer at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, life as a volunteer is quite the startling contrast compared to my experience four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics.

As mentioned earlier in my previous column, a volunteer here is a second-class citizen when it comes to certain privileges, particularly with respect to transportation, food and housing.

In the transport area, it appears the logistics of getting volunteers from A to B in the shortest length of time and with the least physical amount of effort went totally astray and was not given much thought. Some of the work-to-living arrangements defy logic, with some volunteers taking as much as six hours of their day to get to and from their work venues.

For many of the international volunteers that I've talked to, the concensus is the needs of the volunteer are secondary to the Olympic show.

The volunteer workforce is approximately 92 per cent Russian and more than 70 per cent are under the age of 23. About 99 per cent are first time volunteers, with many being sent by their universities and colleges. Those students will receive educational credits for their time served. For them, some things are a little unfair but they accept the system because it's all they know and volunteerism is a relatively new phenomenon.

From the numbers of Russian volunteers I have interacted with, and those I've been fortunate to work with, many of theses young volunteers do not know how to interact with foreigners and tourists.

It’s doubtful the concept of them being ambassadors for their country was ever explained to them. Also, from what I have heard, tourism is not of major importance in most parts of Russia as tourists tend to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Perhaps some are very shy. The female volunteers seem to be much more outgoing and will attempt to communicate regardless of their ability to speak English. Thank goodness women make up 70 per cent of the workforce or international volunteers would be a lonely bunch!

Another startling contrast is the lack of English that has being used here, particularly since English is one of the official Olympic languages along with French.

French is pretty well non-existent and, contrary to Olympic policy, Russian is the major Olympic language.

Many of the transportation and security people giving out directions to visitors speak little to no English, particularly those directing the hordes of people entering and leaving the park. We have to constantly ask about the directions being provided.

Other than the Olympic Park, and the train stations and buses, there is little in the way of English signage and audio communication.

We have had to constantly badger people about English signage everywhere. I think the organizing people forgot that the Olympic Games is an international event and not just Russian.

Another phenomenon is the Russian queuing system. Barriers are put up to herd people like cattle but no one follows the system. It's also every person for themselves; no ladies first or consideration given for older people who may have mobility problems.

One night while we were leaving the Olympic Park, the security people made a guy with crutches walk all the way to the main exit instead of letting him go through the entrance area straight ahead. The lack of flexibility is amazing.

To wrap things up, despite the transportation and language problems, it's been an amazing experience and the warm hospitality of my workmates and the people I have met make it all worthwhile.

Canada has done us proud here with its athletic achievements as well as the volunteers serving at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

 

 

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Stan Kochanoff is a Falmouth resident who spent February volunteering in Sochi, Russia at the 2014 Olympics.

 

Organizations: Vancouver Olympics, Olympic Games, Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 Winter Olympics

Geographic location: Russia, Falmouth, Olympic Park Moscow St. Petersburg Canada Sochi Sochi Winter Olympics

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