Mason students volunteer at Paralympic Games in South Korea

George Mason University, Paralympics, 2018 Olympics, Korea

George Mason's Olympic Study Abroad Program allowed Mason and Virginia Tech students to work as volunteers at the Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Photo courtesy of Seungwon "Shawn" Lee.

The power of sport is what Jiordan Carter says she’ll remember most about being in South Korea, attending the Winter Olympic Games and volunteering for the Paralympics in PyeongChang, as part of George Mason University’s inaugural Olympic Study Abroad Program.

“Being able to go to the Olympics was amazing,” said Carter, a junior sport management major. “I love that sports can bring people together from all walks of life. I wanted to be able to work in an industry that all people can relate to and enjoy.”

Carter was among nine Mason students, including seven undergrads, taking part in the program. Five Virginia Tech students joined them for an intensive, six-week study abroad program that included three weeks of classes at Mason Korea in Songdo, and two weeks of volunteering at the Paralympics, March 4-18.

As part of the curriculum, the students were heavily exposed to the intricate operation details of sports events at that magnitude by meeting Olympic media and organizing committee executives, and visiting exhibition facilities.

They were able to attend a hockey game at the Winter Olympics before moving into the Olympic Village to work the Paralympic Games. The students earned 12 credit hours for their work.

After completing two days of training for the Paralympics, the students were assigned on-site positions at the media center, photo services, information desk and broadcasting support. They left with a better understanding of Olympic-caliber events after assisting at practices and practice games, and helping in the broadcasting of games all over the world.

While there, the students were able to interact with athletes, coaches, spectators and other volunteers.

“My experience has been amazing studying here,” said Kyle Peich, a sport management major. “Everyone in the country is very friendly and nice, which makes it a much better learning experience. It’s been everything I’d hoped it would be and more.”

The program, which included students of multiple disciplines, is the brainchild of Seungwon “Shawn” Lee, a South Korean native and associate professor of hospitality, tourism and events management in the College of Education and Human Development.

Lee still recalls the energy of the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the legacy it left on his home country. He planned the program with the hopes of providing valuable experiential learning opportunities to students who wanted to taste that Olympic experience while gaining a deeper understanding of event planning, sport management and South Korean culture.

Lee, who was aided by adjunct sport management professor Oliver Weiss and Min Park, the dean of administration of Mason Korea, arranged field trips during the first three weeks of classes. They included stops at the 1988 Seoul Olympics site, where student attended a lecture about the legacy of those Games; a trip to Seoul Coex, one of the largest sports event complexes in the world, and Lotte World, Asia’s top indoor theme park; a trip to the 2018 Winter Olympic International Broadcasting Center and an Olympic hockey competition; a trip to the 2002 Korea World Cup main stadium and World Taekwondo headquarters; and a cultural trip to Inchon.

“Students will return having a lot of hands-on experience and knowledge in sport and event management,” Lee said. “Those experiences will provide them invaluable experience and knowledge for them to apply for many other sports, recreation facility design and mega-event management.”

In addition, the graduate student volunteers blogged in real time about their experiences and shared them with other students. They’ll deliver a Power Point presentation and field questions from their fellow students upon returning to Mason in April.

Lee said that he hopes to be able to provide similar programs for Mason students at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.