Are You Really Doing That For Free!?

There are greater rewards than money

For 19 days, I volunteered at the Olympics and rarely did a day pass where one of my friends or family members would ask; are you really doing that for free?

Just looking at the featured image will tell you, I was paid in something more valuable than money. The woman in that picture is my friend’s mother on her 86th birthday. Fortunately, I had that day off! The joy on her face when I shared my pinned-up lanyard with her is priceless. To me, it’s a reminder of the power and stories the Olympics bring to people all over the world. Fans or no fans,The Olympics is the world’s largest envent.

I didn’t meet any current athletes, though I did see my share of past Olympians. One older gentleman even went through the security check wearing his gold medal. Wow! I had opportunities to converse with people from all over the world. I shared conversations with IOC members, National Olympic Committee (NOC) Directors, and volunteers not just from wideoff places but from my own neighborhood, too. Hopefully, some of these people will remain friends for years to come.

This is a picture of me and my new friend Anad. He is originally from India and worked as an Olympic Family Assistant (OFA). He is kind and helpful. An OFA is like a host parent for the NOC and IOC members. They help their assigned NOC members to navigate the city and its intricacies, arrange transportation and ensure that their guest’s needs are met (as much as is possible during a COVID lockdown) while visiting for the Olympics. Anad, like me, was always smiling. That may be one reason why his guests always seemed so happy when they came back to the hotel. Working with him was a joy I would have never had if I’d been worried about how much I wasn’t getting paid.

I gained the title of Pin King because I had more pins than anyone on the team (22 pins in 19 days). As I stated in Giving Smiles and Solving Problems, some of these pins were given as a token of gratitude. Others were dispersed in moments of joy and serendipity.

Like this necktie from Tonga. It was given to me by a member of their NOC as she was getting ready to depart for the airport. These Olympic mementos can not be bought. In fact, to me, they are priceless.

I’ll never forget (and probably will embellish in the years to come) the second Saturday of the Games. I was working the information desk at NOC headquarters, and the electricity was phenomenal. People waving flags in the lobby, folks announcing their countrymen and women making medal rounds, others dancing through the lobby, and the general sense of camaraderie. One person even left a wooden sculpture at the Accommodation Desk as a gift of friendship. So much fun!

I am so tired of working at home alone all day, every day. There is no telecommuting at the Olympics. What a breath of fresh air it was to get out and meet people every day. I was reminded of the serendipitous experiences that can happen when in the presence of other people. Interacting with both customers and staff was an opportunity to sharpen my communication skills and flash the humorous side of my personality. I even gained strength in my legs from all the walking!

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash
Photo by Kashish Lamba on Unsplash

I found a new taqueria that reminded me of being back in California. I was not expecting much. But when I filled his mouth with the tacos, I was overwhelmed with joy. Taco Rico was almost like being back home. If not for the Olympics, I never would have found this gem.

And speaking of memories of home, I can’t remember the last time I had a Reuben Sandwich. The one I had at Ark Hills Cafe on one of my lunch breaks was fab! It brought back memories of lunch with my grandfather, who passed away earlier this summer at 100-years-old.

By Ernesto Andrade - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3022275

So did I work for free? Not really, I gained valuable volunteer experience, met some amazing people, reminisced of home, ate some great food, and have memories that will last a lifetime. Those things are far more valuable than cash.

Originally published on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
athletes filling the Olympic Rings

We Can Transform the World

Participating in the Olympics is an opportunity to be on the world stage. It is a chance to let your light shine and brighten the lives of people from all over the world. While the number of people that we Tokyo 2020 volunteers will get to interact with is going to be smaller than originally

Read More »
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Volunteer

My Tokyo 2020 Olympic Journey

The Olympics brings to mind an ideal of unity, sportsmanship and inclusion like no other event. These ideals are what I signed up for. Being part of such a massive global event, I reasoned, would surely be a beneficial experience.

Read More »

Pin Collecting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Today will be my 13th day of volunteer activities, and along the way, I have enjoyed every day. You can check my previous post for evidence of that. One thing that has really become an interesting measure of the ability of each one of us volunteers to make a difference is the number of pins we receive.

Read More »

Tokyo 2020 – Ready to Serve

Yesterday was my first day of volunteer activities for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and it was full of intrigue. From the start to the end, it was all an enjoyable learning experience. Step 1 – Leave early, just in case I learned Murphy’s law, If something can go wrong, it will, very early in my

Read More »

A Simple Thank You Means so Much

One of the great things about volunteering for the Olympics was meeting young people who were exploring options for their careers. Some worked in broadcasting services, others assisted during sporting events, but one young woman really caught my attention for her diligence and passion for her work. Her name is Saori Tago. She has been participating as a volunteer for several years and hopes to make a career of assisting on events. Saori worked both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics as both an assistant to Olympic Families and a leader of her team. 

John Cunningham: Tell me about yourself. 

Saori Tago: My name is Saori. I’m from Gunma prefecture, Japan. My dream was to join the Olympic Games. When I was a student, I watched the Nagano Olympic games on TV. And I was really impressed. I also used to play softball, and I watched the National Championship which was held in my hometown. It was so impressive that my dream became to volunteer for the Olympics.

John: You live in Gunma, but you still volunteered for the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. How long does it take to get there?

Saori: About two hours by train, but only one hour by Shinkansen.

John: So when you’re volunteering, did you do that every day or did you stay in Tokyo? 

Saori: During the Olympic games, I stayed at a youth hostel in Tokyo for 20 days.

I had the opportunity to hear about other cultures and stories from far-off countries. That is so interesting

John: Okay. How was that? 

Saori: Yeah. That was nice. Honestly, I was so busy with volunteer work that I just slept there.

John: For the Olympics, how many days did you work? 

Saori: Almost all the days. 

John: There was a lady that I worked with who said that you are always working and a very hard worker. She said, “We always see her. She is a manager, but we also see her escorting people around.”

Saori: It’s my pleasure. 

John: Did you have any expectations about volunteering before the Olympic Games? 

Saori: Yeah, I had a lot of volunteer experiences before the Games. For example, I have worked at the Tokyo and Osaka Marathons, the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I also worked at the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship. 

John: What is it about volunteering that has become a passion for you?

Saori: I saw major events coming, and I had the opportunity to hear about other cultures and stories from far-off countries. That is so interesting.

I thought IOC members were very prestigious, but he was really kind. Then I could relax.

John: So how did your previous volunteer experience prepare you for working at the Olympics?

Saori: I had opportunities to use English, work with people from other countries, make friends in other countries and provide assistance. 

John: What was your job in the Olympics? What was your role? 

Saori: My role is Olympic Family Assistant (OFA). I guided National Olympic Committee (NOC) members around the city, to the Olympic Village and to venues. Then take them to the airport for their departures back home.

John: Okay. So you’re basically the escort for the NOC members? 

Saori: That’s right. Occasionally, I supported IOC members too. They were all so friendly.

John: Okay, I imagine being an escort for Olympic families. You have some very interesting stories. Can you tell me about one of your adventures in helping Olympic families?

Saori: I have so many. One of my first assignments, I was so nervous, I was assigned to a IOC member. He is a sports director and his name is Mr. Kitt, and he was such a nice person. And I asked him what I should call him and he said, “Just call me Kitt.”

I was surprised and happy. I thought IOC members were very prestigious, but he was really kind. Then I could relax. I was hoping to help him again, but I did not get a chance.

I was really surprised at how friendly most of the IOC members are. 

John: They have this skill for quickly making a bond with people. Like I noticed, they would quickly look down and read your name tag, and then use your name right away. They would say something like hi John, how are you today? In fact, two or three of the IOC members actually said, thank you very much for volunteering. We really appreciate it. It is because of people like you we are actually able to do these events. If we had to hire 80,000 people right on top of the people that are already working, The Olympics would never happen. I was really surprised that a lot of IOC members look down, look up, and use your name. Not only that, but they remember you, too. They were quite skilled in making you feel comfortable talking to you for those few minutes.

John: Do you think that your role as an OFA was a good fit for you? 

Saori: At first it was hard work for me, but I had so many brilliant memories. It was so amazing! 

John: I imagine some of your friends wonder why you volunteer. What do you tell them? 

Saori: When people say arigato, or thank you, I feel happy. I can add the experience to my resume, too. I also am happy to connect to and learn about other cultures and ways of thinking, but mostly it is about helping people. This is valuable to me, so I will keep on volunteering. 

John: How about in the future? Would you like to volunteer internationally? For example, the Asian Games in Cambodia, or the Paris 2024 games?

Saori: Yeah, I want to do volunteer work at the Paris 2024 Olympics. After the experience of the Olympics, I want to volunteer at other international events, even in other countries. 

John: Through this blog project I got to meet people from all over the world and was really surprised that there are people that plan their vacations around volunteering for major events. It’s a passion for them to travel around the world, and volunteer for events. 

So is there anything else that you would like to say as we’re wrapping up the interview? Any message that you’d like to share with people who are thinking about volunteering?

Saori: Yes, the athletes from South Sudan stayed in my hometown. I assisted them and became friends with some of the athletes and staff. They stayed in Gunma for over a year, because of the delay in holding the Olympics. It was such a great experience to share cultures. Then when I saw you yesterday, I was getting ready to escort their NOC President to the airport. I really felt like I was a key part of their success in Tokyo 2020. Doing volunteer work makes me very happy, and I am glad to be able to do it.

This article originally appeared on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Gold Medal Worthy Success Begins With Good Communication

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have received a lot of Olympic pins while doing my volunteer duties. One reason for that, I believe, is communication skills. Not a shift goes by that someone doesn’t ask me how I got so many pins. As an experienced teacher and trainer, I’ve adapted my advice to the situation. Regardless of my colleagues’ level of English, there is something they can do to become more conversationally adept.

One of the most common roles in my section is checking credentials. We sit and wait for people to enter the IOC offices, checking that they have the appropriate sticker on their ID and don’t have a fever. We, volunteers, do this at each checkpoint for about an hour at a time, but the poor security guards sit at those posts for two hours or more. With little foot traffic, you can imagine that it’s not such a fun job. Using simple language like, “How are you today?” (with an up intonation on today) in the morning, or “Looks like you’ve had a busy day,” when delegates return to the hotel in the evening. These gambits often lead to short conversations that most beginners could take part in fairly easily.

Using common questions such as Where are you from? Are you enjoying your trip? What sports are you planning to/did you see today? Can help beginners to sound more accomplished. I always tell clients and students that one way to sound fluent, conversational, and interested is to ask questions. For non-native speakers, asking questions means less time spent inventing answers. For the rest of us, it is a way to show genuine interest and friendliness. These simple questions can be asked over and over. As the first interaction is the most important in this situation, and the answers will never be exactly the same.

More advanced English (or French) speakers could try continuing conversations over several interactions, as we would often see the same people throughout the day. I struck up a couple of these conversations with an IOC member whenever I saw her. Only when watching the Closing Ceremonies did I realize she was the IOC Vice President!

Our other role is working at one of the information desks. People would come to us with all kinds of questions. “Where can I get the PCR test required for my home country?’ ‘Can you print a copy of this document from my phone?’ ‘Did Ms. President pick up her phone yet?’ ‘How do I get to the IOC Viewing Lounge?”

These questions rarely came as one-offs. Often they were asked as a story that included several questions embedded within their message. Usually, the volunteers wanted to take these questions in order although the questions were not cohesively organized. For those volunteers with higher levels of language, which was pretty close to all of us, listening in full, thinking through a response, and then framing it the most effective way possible provided a great sense of relief to the guest. This technique also netted me several pins!

Most people with a moderate level of language can do this. The secret is to consider the context. We are at the Olympics, and people usually need just a few things: PCR test-related information, help to navigate the transportation system, and solving problems concerning their phones. The limited number of topics in business communication makes it easier than general conversation, where the topics are wide open.

Volunteering provides an excellent opportunity to improve communication skills, as we are constantly faced with people that require some level of assistance. Occasionally, we even are exposed to some new techniques. IOC members, for example, are skilled at quickly reading name badges and using those names in conversations. This is a great way to remember names, because you see the person’s face, their picture, and use their name. Oftentimes these skilled badge readers would call me by name in subsequent meetings. Another gentleman would start conversations with, “Question.” This made it easy for the staff to know that the question was coming first, followed by the context. A brilliant idea for working with non-native speakers.

I improved my Japanese because I had to use it every day and I tried to communicate without fear of making mistakes. Finding opportunities to challenge language skills in working with international guests provided many of my colleagues the opportunity to test their language skills in a real-world environment as well, sharpen their abilities, and enjoy another aspect of volunteering at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

This article originally appeared on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Pin Collecting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Olympic Pin Collecting

Today will be my 13th day of volunteer activities, and along the way, I have enjoyed every day. You can check my previous post for evidence of that. One thing that has really become an interesting measure of the ability of each one of us volunteers to make a difference is the number of pins we receive. Some are tokens of friendship, others are presented for the length of service, while the most meaningful pins we receive are for doing some kindness for others.

Each country brings pins, and there are even pins for some events. Here is a pinboard with medals from all over the world.

On my team, I’ve become known as the pinking because I have received 13 pins in my 13 days. I attribute my success in acquiring pins to my friendly demeanor. I always wear a smile so big it can be seen through my mask. I also take every opportunity I get to strike up conversations. Occasionally these conversations end with the gift of a pin.

Olympic Commemorative Pins

The real pin royalty, however, is the transport team (pictured above). They arrange cars for IOC and NOC (National Olympic Committee) members. Navigating Tokyo and its outlying areas where the different events are being held is not easy. The folks in transport arrangements take most of the stress of getting from event to event and back to the hotels again. Of all the contractors I’ve met, they are the only ones with more than a couple of pins.

As volunteers, we are awarded pins for service. A bronze for three days, silver for five, and gold for 10 days of volunteering. These milestones remind me of the people I’ve met and the new friendships that will hopefully continue to grow after these Games are over.

To me, these two pins are the most valuable, Olympic Solidarity and Guyana. You may have never heard of Olympic Solidarity. They are the organization that allocates broadcast and other Olympic royalty revenues to countries that don’t have the disposable funds to build athletics programs. Not only do they support the Olympic aspirations of athletes in these countries, but they also develop youth sports programs.

I had never heard of Olympic Solidarity before volunteering, and now I understand the importance of their programs for the countries that send just a handful of athletes to international competitions like the Olympics. Those athletes are really what makes the Games so special. I received my Olympic Solidarity pin for helping them secure proxy tickets for the opening ceremonies.

My Guyana pin will always remind me of providing assistance to their NOC in acquiring a personal assistant, a volunteer assigned to help the visiting dignitaries. This opportunity began with a smile and analysis of a troubled-looking face.

Regardless of if pins are given out to everyone in the lobby for merit or as an act of kindness, each pin represents a memory I will carry with me forever. Not many people have had the opportunity to be at the Olympics this year. I am happy to count myself as one of them.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Giving Smiles & Solving Problems at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

So, my Olympic experience is half over, and I am having a memento mori moment. Trying to take in as much as I can in the 10 days of volunteering I have remaining. To say it’s been sublime is really an understatement. It is hard to imagine what it’s like to be working on the world’s largest stage. I worked two of the three biggest pay-per-view boxing events of all time (Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao & Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez), and the Olympics is similar to having a couple of those events every day, even without fans.

It can be quite overwhelming, but I’ve broken my role down into a simple two-step job description, give smiles and solve problems. Some of my colleagues ask me why I am always happy. It’s simple. I am at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. So I greet everyone with a smile and good morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on the situation. Last night many of the delegates looked exhausted after a day of moving from event to event from early morning to late in the evening. So I would say, “looks like you had a busy day today.” The response would often include a description of the games from their country’s point of view. One gentleman lost his phone, and we did our best to find it for him. That conversation started with a warm, “How can I help you, sir?”

Saturday night a delegate from Kazakhstan was running through the hotel lobby announcing that one of their athletes had made the Judo semifinals. He was so happy. Yeldos Smetov took the bronze medal that night. 

Another delegate from central Africa was panicked because their National Olympic Committee President’s flight had been canceled. He was set to arrive the following evening with no way to make the hour-plus ride from Narita airport to his hotel. On top of that, he also needed an escort and driver for a full day’s schedule on the succeeding day. With a smile on my face, I listened carefully to his story, and cohesively organized his needs. Then went about getting him the support he needed to make the itinerary work to his expectations. A few days later, when I met the gentleman in the hotel lobby, accompanying his President, I told him I was happy to see them together. He immediately interrupted the President’s discussion and explained how I had assisted them. What an honor! Giving smiles and solving problems.

Yesterday, I tried to get the catering staff to keep the buffet open a little longer for IOC members to get some dinner between meetings. Unfortunately, this request fell on deaf ears, and the delegate settled for water. It seems simple enough to me that they could have made up a plate and had him take it with him. I guess not everyone thrives on solving problems. 

Tomorrow is a new day. It’s another chance to mingle with people from all over the world without having to get on a plane. Looking forward to continuing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Giving smiles and solving problems.

This story originally appeared on Medium.com.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Taking Her Volunteer Experience to the Next Level

Jill Barcelona-Suzuki has been living in Japan for several years. She first came here in 1998 as the Philipine delegate to the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program, currently named Ship for Southeast Asia and Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP).

SSEAYP aims to promote friendship and understanding among youths from Japan and ten Southeast Asian countries (Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Lao people’s Democratic Republic, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and the Kingdom of Cambodia). The program’s agenda is focused on broadening world perspectives, and strengthening the spirit of international cooperation, while teaching practical skills for international collaboration.

Jill Barcelona Suzuki: I fell in love with Japan at the time and that is why I am back. In language school, I took Japanese for a year and continued my studies, taking an MBA course. My thesis was focused on local mango growers in my hometown Butuan City, in Mindanao island, Philippines.

I got lucky because my husband is half Japanese and half Filipino. So we are able to stay here. Maybe we will go back when we retire. Really, we hadn’t planned to stay this long, but we are still here.

I am hoping that volunteering will give me a chance to understand more about the needs of athletes, how events are organized and to hear other people’s stories about the experience. It is just so sad that we have limited ability to interact.

John Cunningham: That’s what happens. I came in 1998, too. Had planned to stay for five years and I’m still here.

JBSExactly, I have that kind of feeling too. I can speak a bit of Japanese but I don’t use it at home or even at work.

JC: What kind of work do you do?

JBS: I’ve been working as a business English teacher for 15 years. I like meeting people from different areas or from different walks of life and we can really learn from them.

JC: There is a large level of respect when you are both subject matter experts.

JBS: Yes, if you give them more than they expect, that is definitely a bonus for them too. 

JC: Why did you decide to be a volunteer for the olympics?

JBS: First off, It’s the Olympics, right!? 

As a student, I was always an athlete. I played volleyball in elementary school, but that sport didn’t really like me. So in Jr. high I switched to badminton and represented my school at a tournament, but that wasn’t a good fit either. 

JC: You were one of the best players in your school, but you weren’t satisfied with your skills?

JBS: Yeah, well… Then I became fascinated with softball and played pitcher. I played in high school and university, but softball has 9 players, and it was hard to get enough people to field a team.

Still, hard work, self-discipline and focus are the keys to becoming successful regardless of if you reach a level that makes you happy to compete or you become an Olympic athlete, I believe this is true in life too.

When I stopped playing softball, I became a coach. That was the time when I went back to university, not as a student but as a teacher. Ultimately, it was kind of sad because we didn’t have good equipment. So it was hard to develop the team. It may seem like I am blaming the equipment but…

JC: That’s true. I’ve heard that one reason Africa has so many great runners is because it’s a sport that requires virtually no equipment. Soccer is another good example. You don’t need much equipment to play soccer, just a ball.

JBS: I believe dealing with these kinds of issues makes one a better athlete. Can you imagine just having two softballs during practice? That is really not enough. I know how hard it is for every athlete from less affluent countries to get the training needed to become great.

JC: That is so different from the US where you can buy softballs by the bucketful at most sporting goods stores. Regarding training, I agree with you. I also believe that it is true in any field. The more training you can get, the better you will perform.

JBS: Still, hard work, self-discipline and focus are the keys to becoming a successful athlete regardless of if you reach a level that makes you happy to compete or you become an Olympic athlete, I believe this is true in life too.

It’s been a long wait, since 2018. I am very certain that I would volunteer regardless of the situation, why wouldn’t I?

JC: I couldn’t agree more. So, what are your expectations of the volunteer experience?

JBS: I am hoping that volunteering will give me a chance to understand more about the needs of athletes, how events are organized and to hear other people’s stories about the experience. It is just so sad that we have limited ability to interact.

JC: What is your role?

JBS: My assignment is to work at the surfing competition and we’ve done on-line training. I actually went to the location as well. It is better to go to the place and figure out what it’s like. This gives you an idea of what to expect. I had hoped to get some photos, but they would not let me take any pictures.

In my role, I’m a Venue Protocol Team Leader. My request was to work indoors, because I know how hot and humid it is here in Japan during the summer, but I am in charge of this for surfing. You have to accept the role and be positive. It is a good thing that it was given to me. The live training was really good despite us being divided for Covid protocol.

I am scheduled from July 25 to August 1st, but if the waves are good, they can finish the event in just four days.

JC:  What are some of your other volunteer experiences?

JBS: After my time as a delegate at SSEAYP. I supported the program in the Philippines. There are really a lot of countries in Asia, and many of them could use some assistance. That experience was really life changing.

JC: Is there anything else you would like to share?

JBS: Yes, it’s been a long wait, since 2018. I am very certain that I would volunteer regardless of the situation, why wouldn’t I? I knew that the Olympics were eventually going to happen, and it could be risky, but it (this experience) maybe is my calling.

JC: You wrote a book too, didn’t you?

JBS: Yes, it was published at the beginning of the year. It’s called Sad And Funny Experiences Of Japanese People – YNNUF (=ENOUGH) Being SAD. These are stories of my students’ journeys. Learning is something we have to do alone. And these stories are difficult for them to share. I hope this book educates people about culture and understanding Japanese people more. You can get the digital version on Amazon.

JC:: That seems in line with what you learned as part of SSEAYP.

JBS: Funny, but that is right. SF’s goal is to broaden cultural understanding, and in a way I’ve been doing that my whole adult life.

JC: Thank you very much for sharing your story, Jill. 

JBS: You’re welcome, John.

This story originally appeared on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
athletes filling the Olympic Rings

We Can Transform the World

Participating in the Olympics is an opportunity to be on the world stage. It is a chance to let your light shine and brighten the lives of people from all over the world. While the number of people that we Tokyo 2020 volunteers will get to interact with is going to be smaller than originally

Read More »
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Volunteer

My Tokyo 2020 Olympic Journey

The Olympics brings to mind an ideal of unity, sportsmanship and inclusion like no other event. These ideals are what I signed up for. Being part of such a massive global event, I reasoned, would surely be a beneficial experience.

Read More »

Building a Business on the Spirit of Volunteerism

Nada at Rio

Nada Rochevska led language services during the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She has been a part of many Olympics, both Winter, and Summer, since her first experience at the Lillehammer Youth Olympics in 2016.

Her vast knowledge of the volunteer experience and mega sporting events combined with her love of sport has led her to create Sports Volunteering Solutions, a German-based consulting firm that helps host cities, international federations, and countries to coordinate the roles, training, and work of volunteers.

Winning volunteer experiences are a key to successful events, as they foster memorable and lasting contributions. These sports legacies are what Nada is dedicated to creating.


A Star Athlete
Nada’s story of how she became a world leader in the volunteer movement is quite interesting. Her name means Hope, and that is really central to what she is doing today. She worked on a large-scale project for the parliament of Macedonia and played basketball in Macedonia’s national basketball league.

However, as with many athletes, serious injuries forced her to retire early. This was initially devastating for a girl that grew up with basketball, and whose life was centered around the sport.


Basketball helped me to be confident in life. It also provided me a way to be free and get the best out of myself on the field.


In university, she studied law and was looking for a way to involve herself in sport as a profession, but there were not really many opportunities beyond part-time coaching. So, she decided to move to Germany to seek out new opportunities.


Even though she had been a lawyer in her home country, she was unable to transfer her law background to work in the EU. So she needed to reinvent her career path. This led her to the field of sports management.


As I worked with sports at the highest level, my mind was opened to other possibilities and I came across sport management. This opened my mind to setting up a new profession and interests. I decided to leave law, that was a very difficult decision. I started from zero and went back to school. I won an internship with HC Vardar in the Management Department of the Club. That was the start of my sport management career.


Participating as a volunteer and being hungry to build up herself, her knowledge, and network has led to countless opportunities for Nada. 

Experiencing the thrill of participating in international events makes us hungry for more. That eventually became a calling for me. It also provided a way for me to grow as a person.

Initially, I liked the environment and being part of something different as a volunteer. These experiences led me to the realization that whatever I do in life, I must enjoy it. When I can enjoy, I can do things at the highest level.


First International Competition Experiences
Nada’s first international volunteer experience came at the European Beach Handball Championship Lloret de Mar 2015 in Spain. When she arrived for her assignment, they told her that she would be charged with managing a group of volunteers. Shocked by this role, she diligently spent the first few nights studying about the volunteer experience.

She didn’t really know anything about her role or the work her team was to perform. In the end, she succeeded in contributing to the making of a spectacular event.

“It was so amazing,” she explained, “that I felt I needed to do it again.”


That led to her first Olympic volunteer experience at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. She left her suitcase in Spain and went all-in on the experience. Her first impressions were that the people were really warm, and the weather was really cold. This was a bit of a shock for someone from the warm climate of southern Europe.


Nevertheless, she threw herself in the deep end and really taught herself how to not only survive but to thrive.

Initially, the cold weather and a minor illness had me thinking about taking the next plane home, but I considered deeply that I was there for a reason, and decided to keep going.


Transformed
After Lillehammer, Nada thought about how to be part of something as monumental as the Olympics again.

I love research, so I thought I need to study more and get more experience.


Initially, she Googled how to apply to volunteer at the Olympics. After applying and receiving notice of her acceptance, she was overjoyed. As she describes it, “I ran up and down the street jumping for joy.”


Going through these experiences, she learned that she was stronger than she thought. Not only that, but her volunteer activities allowed her to meet all kinds of people, both locally and internationally. She learned about how to make the volunteer experience memorable.

That was the key to where she and her company are today.

As a manager of volunteers, you have responsibility for the people and you consciously need to leave a positive mark on them and their volunteer experience. Will they volunteer again? Part of that is decided by their experience this time around. That is a big responsibility.

When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

Volunteering is a kind of job and it is very challenging for the managers because they need to motivate their people to do the job cheerfully and for free. Unlike a position where money is a motivator.

I worked in Rio and was assigned to assist the Macedonian team and got a full credential. I was able to attend meetings and really be a part of the team and the Olympics themselves. I would say, this experience was similar to getting a Ph.D. in sports management.

Nada ended her Olympic experience in Rio by carrying the Macedonian flag in the closing ceremonies. This was an honor given to her by the team for her outstanding contributions. “It has to be one of the best experiences of my life,” she explained when recollecting the story.

From Volunteer to Creating Volunteer Systems
After Rio, Nada wanted to find a way to be part of the Olympic world. So, she looked for gaps in her knowledge and skillsets. Then, sat in on classes at German Sport University Cologne (One of the leading universities in the world for Olympic Studies). One term she audited a class on Olympic history. In the class, they were having a discussion on the 1936 games and when they started to discuss some of the issues surrounding the infamous Nazi Games games, she came to understand that she was the one who had really done the homework. This caught the professor’s, an IOC member at the time, attention, and he offered her enrollment into the Olympics Masters Studies curriculum. She was stunned because the program is only open to people with experience in the Olympics. “These benefits are all because of my determination, dedication, and love of the games.”

In 2018, Nada applied for an Olympic legacy program in Japan to discuss sports management and Olympic experiences. “There were two of us delegates from Europe. We met so many people and shared our expertise about how to support volunteers.” Through this experience, her love of the volunteer side of sport was solidified.

Taking part in that program really got her thinking about the value of managing and organizing volunteers in the most effective way. This led to the topic of her thesis, applying behavioral science and management philosophy to find new and better ways of managing volunteers, their duties, and their loyalty to events.

So in my business, we combine science and research with sport management to create a memorable experience. When done right, everyone grows from the volunteer experience.

Through working both the volunteer and management sides of mega sports events, Nada came to comprehend deeply that participation in volunteer activities needs to be appreciated much more than one would expect to receive in a job. There really needs to be an assessment of people’s skills and what is the best role for them. It’s about more than just how many times one has volunteered.

One challenge is that at these events almost everyone is new on the job, not just the front-line volunteers.

Developmental programs help to ensure that everyone has an understanding of their roles before starting work. This orientation and training are extremely important. The Japanese Olympic Committee has been able to create a system that includes an attention to detail that helps create a personal level of responsibility for volunteers to complete the training modules and be ready for their duties.

Working with professionals who are volunteering provides an opportunity to harvest the individual’s skills in a new area that is connected to sport. The Olympics are so huge that creating momentum is easier than it would be in regional or national events. So matching people to suitable roles is even more important the more events are scaled-down.

As a consultant, you need to combine knowledge from the field with management strategies that you would use in any professional organization.

My idea is to create a high-performance volunteering team that can morph to the needs of the client. We consult and offer advice, design programs, develop training, manage the volunteers and run the events.

We can work with the client from the beginning of the process, providing advice on how to effectively set up and maintain their systems, or run the entire operation. For example, we can dispatch a group of experts that can manage several thousand locally recruited volunteers.

Reaching Further Than She Imagined
When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

If you want the volunteers to come back to you and to create a group of people you can depend on to help make successful events, again and again, the most important thing is to know your volunteers. Understand their motivations, expectations, and experience (both professionally and as a volunteer), this will help you to select the best position for each volunteer. If you can give them roles that pique their interests, then they will be successful.


If the system is done right, most people will want to volunteer again. The organizers need to give some view of what happens backstage. That makes people feel valuable. Additionally, when volunteers feel that their work contributes to the success of the event, they will be happy to do what is asked of them and want to do it again.


Not only do the games leave a mark on the city, but the volunteers have a direct hand in the impression that remains after the event is over. That is very impactful. To leave that legacy is beautiful.

Reaching Further Than She Imagined
When a country or a city wins the bid for a big event and initially they are really excited. Once that joy wears off, the event organizers wonder what to do next. The answer is call Nada. She will help you to have a successful event.

If you want the volunteers to come back to you and to create a group of people you can depend on to help make successful events, again and again, the most important thing is to know your volunteers. Understand their motivations, expectations, and experience (both professionally and as a volunteer), this will help you to select the best position for each volunteer. If you can give them roles that pique their interests, then they will be successful.


If the system is done right, most people will want to volunteer again. The organizers need to give some view of what happens backstage. That makes people feel valuable. Additionally, when volunteers feel that their work contributes to the success of the event, they will be happy to do what is asked of them and want to do it again.


Not only do the games leave a mark on the city, but the volunteers have a direct hand in the impression that remains after the event is over. That is very impactful. To leave that legacy is beautiful.

When you have no expectations, you are open to so much learning about yourself, the community, the place, and the sport/event.

Contrarily, when volunteers arrive to work and they have nothing to do, that is the worst thing that can happen. Volunteers have made an investment in being there. They have given their most valuable asset their time, and using them to the best of their abilities is how to make an excellent event.

The volunteers are the organizing committee’s tools and these tools need to be used correctly. If the volunteers are not doing their jobs properly, the manager will be held accountable, not the organizers.

Sports Volunteering Solutions is really a pioneer in this area. When she presents what she does, the people she meets are really excited and say, “Oh Nada! This is what we need.” That is exciting. The results her company is achieving show that they are really going in the right direction. Her vision is becoming a reality and the work they do consistently inspires people inside and outside the organization. When volunteers are managed effectively, revenue comes in from a wider variety of sources, including the volunteers themselves.

At the Sydney Games, the value of the volunteers to the Olympics and the city of Sydney itself was in the millions of Australian dollars. That kind of success is only a dream when initially preparing a bid for a large-scale sporting event.

A Message for Volunteers
When you volunteer, there are lots of opportunities that come your way. They may be indirect, like meeting your partner, making new friends, or seeing how big events are managed. There are so many benefits that people get for their service that go beyond money or event memorabilia.

Volunteering provides the opportunity to expand your network, develop new skills, and meet people from other walks of life you would have never met otherwise. Beyond that, as you volunteer at more and more events, you will start to see the same people and you will have a bond with them. Organizers and managers will see you again and give you more important roles because they are familiar with you. It is through these experiences that opportunities come.

What makes the experience beneficial for your personal development is learning how to be flexible and accept the assignments you are given, then do them to the best of your ability. When you volunteer it is a good idea to know about the culture and language, at least a little bit, to show respect to the host. That respect is reciprocated. Also, make an effort to learn the language, at least some common expressions. That will make it easier to interact with the locals. Finally, clear your mind of all expectations. When you have no expectations, you are open to so much learning about yourself, the community, the place, and the sport/event.

Enjoy the differences, our differences are our strengths. Then every moment you will be learning something.

In closing, I would like to say that whether you manage volunteers or work as one, if you can touch one person and make a positive impact on their perspective, that would be quite inspiring.

This story was originally published on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Volunteer

My Tokyo 2020 Olympic Journey

The Olympics brings to mind an ideal of unity, sportsmanship and inclusion like no other event. These ideals are what I signed up for. Being part of such a massive global event, I reasoned, would surely be a beneficial experience.

Read More »

Welcome to My Home Away From Home Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Olympic Volunteer Nima Esnaashar

Nima Esnaashari has been living in Hyogo prefecture since 2010. He moved to Japan from the United States. He originally came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching, also referred to as the JET Program. This program is sponsored by the Japanese government and places native English speakers in public schools to assist in the English learning curriculum and give foreigners a taste of life in the countryside. It is a good induction into authentic Japanese culture and lifestyle as many of the placements are in remote locations.

Hyogo is in the center of Japan, just east of Osaka and Kyoto. Famed for its heavy industries, Kobe beef, Himeji Castle and home of the national baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium. Hyogo combines over a thousand years of history, natural phenomena such as the world’s largest whirlpool which is visible from Naruto Bridge, and modern conveniences like world class dining.

I've been in Japan for a long time and I was looking forward to welcoming the world to my second home.

Nima is supporting Olympic Tennis which will take place at the Ariake Tennis Park on Tokyo Bay. He was originally assigned to check tickets and help with spectator control, but is now preparing for a different role, since venues in Tokyo are now set to have no audience. Regardless of Nima’s new role, he is looking forward to aiding the Olympics to the best of his ability.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to be part of the Olympics while living in Japan. I’ve been here in Japan, a long time. So, I was really looking forward to the idea of welcoming foreign tourists and athletes from around the world to the country that now has become my second home.

This is Nima’s first volunteer experience on such a grand stage, though he does have experience helping people adapt to their surroundings. He volunteered to help foreign students to navigate the campus and get acclimated to university life while attending Towson University in Maryland.

I wish everyone success in their roles and events.

His hope for the Olympics is that it is successful without becoming a super spreader event. We have already seen teams of athletes infected with Covid-19 and keeping the virus isolated is a key to ensuring the success of the games.

I am a people person. I like talking with new people, and I’ve been told that I have a very happy personality. Nima replied, when asked why he thought he was assigned to his role. I am sure his infectious smile will brighten the days of those he comes into contact with despite the need to be wearing a mask.

I was really looking forward to welcoming all sorts of spectators from around the world and to share in the excitement with them and for the opportunity to watch some tennis games live.

Though his role will be slightly altered, his impact on the games will make them memorable for the people he comes in contact with.

I wish everyone success in their roles and events. I hope to see all the events go off smoothly.

This article first appeared on Medium.com

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Pin Collecting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Today will be my 13th day of volunteer activities, and along the way, I have enjoyed every day. You can check my previous post for evidence of that. One thing that has really become an interesting measure of the ability of each one of us volunteers to make a difference is the number of pins we receive.

Read More »

Tokyo 2020 – Ready to Serve

Yesterday was my first day of volunteer activities for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and it was full of intrigue. From the start to the end, it was all an enjoyable learning experience.

Step 1 - Leave early, just in case

I learned Murphy’s law, If something can go wrong, it will, very early in my professional career. So on my first day of volunteering, I heeded it. Thank goodness.

I had planned to arrive an hour early for my shift. This way, if anything went wrong, I would be covered. Well, my shift started at 8 am, so I left home just before 6. The good thing about getting on the train that early is that it’s not so crowded. The bad thing? Well, I had to leave home before 6 am.

Once I arrived at the station, I walked to the hotel I thought I was assigned to work at. However, there are two hotels with the same name across a large park from each other. So I went to the first one. After a good amount of confusion on the part of the staff and myself, it was clear that I was at the wrong hotel. They gave me a map to the other location and sent me on my way. 

While walking to the other property, I saw a sign indicating I should turn right. And that is what I did, wound around through a garden and when I arrived at the front desk I was greeted by the same people. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. I completely believed I was at the other hotel and the staff had moved from that hotel to this one. So out the door I go again and this time walk a little further, past the shrine that you see in the photo above before finally arriving at my designated workplace.

Feeling relieved, but not entirely sure where to go from there, I ask a few people who seemed nearly as confused as I was. Eventually I found the check-in area. At this point, I was still 20 minutes early, so they are not checking in volunteers yet. I soon realized that while there are ideals of how everything should work, the reality is that everyone is new, and this system is largely untested, and as a result, there are bound to be hiccups along the way. This all gives a new meaning to novel experience, everyone is new! Fortunately, the work is not too hard and within a couple of days, we will all appear to be seasoned pros.

Step 2 - A lesson on volunteer management

Even though I worked alone on my first day, I was expecting to be joined by another volunteer. So as I planned my objective, I considered what I would do if someone suddenly arrived and asked, “How can I help?”

On this day, my job was setting up the lounge for volunteers. It was quite interesting to see how the Olympics has completely taken over this hotel, and the situation is similar at  the other Olympic hotels as well. I moved supplies from floor to floor, opened boxes, set up dividers and generally made the room ready for the volunteers that need a place to take a break.

As I was assembling plastic dividers, I devised a system that would allow me to delegate steps of the process if other volunteers arrived and needed something to do. I broke down this job into four separate tasks: unwrapping and stacking partition legs in sets, unwrapping the clear partitions, assembly and placing the dividers on the tables. My idea was that by breaking down processes like this one into microtasks it is easy to share the workload if someone were to ask, “What do you want me to do?”

This kind of forward thinking was a fun exercise and to my surprise, a tried and true method of setting out tasks for volunteers. When people are donating their most precious resource, their time, you’d better make sure to use it judiciously.  

The other benefit was lots and lots of walking. All told, from leaving my home at 5:45 in the morning to arriving at home around 4 pm, I walked about 20,000 steps. That is more than I walked on a recent trip to Tokyo Disney Sea! Needless to say, when I went to the gym last night, I skipped the leg workout.

All in all, my first day as an Olympic volunteer was an enjoyable and enlightening one. It was great to work in the same physical space as others. This is something I’ve rarely had the chance to do since the first Covid lockdown in April of last year. I am looking forward to my next assignment in a couple of days and the ever changing responsibilities that we will undertake to make the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the best they can possibly be.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

We Can Transform the World

athletes filling the Olympic Rings

Participating in the Olympics is an opportunity to be on the world stage. It is a chance to let your light shine and brighten the lives of people from all over the world. While the number of people that we Tokyo 2020 volunteers will get to interact with is going to be smaller than originally anticipated, our ability to impact the world has not been diminished. 

Field Cast members, as we Tokyo 2020 Olympic volunteers are called, have many reasons for taking part in the games. In previous posts, Carlos Hernandez talked about having gratitude for his life in Japan and Tokyo 2020 being his opportunity to give back. Aimee-Lee Nash also shared her excitement for being part of history in the story Olympic Spirit South African Style.

Since then, I have talked to many other volunteers who are excitedly looking forward to coming together for this life-altering experience. Some people carve out their lives around volunteering while others happen to be in the right place at the right time and are looking to thrive on that serendipity.

Chelanna White is from Canada and missed taking part in the Vancouver 2010 games, because she was living in France at the time. This time, despite living in Kyoto, which is almost 500 Km (300 miles) away from Tokyo, she is determined to take part in the games. I can relate. I lived in California during the 1984 games and would have loved to have volunteered but did not take the initiative to do so. Tabata Petunia is from Columbia and was also hoping to help at Tokyo 2020 but missed registration, which actually took place 3 years ago! 

Jenny Cornick is a horse enthusiast. Fortunately for her, she was assigned to help with equestrian events. The equestrian events are one of the few that will be taking place in the bubble. All the athletes, support staff, and volunteers will be staying at the same hotel and take shuttle buses to events. “I love Tokyo, and equestrian sports, and want to promote them,” Jenny said in anticipation of the games.

Jessii Parham is also supporting equestrian events. She is a serial volunteer assisting at events all over the world. “I love to meet people and experience this with like-minded people.’ She said, ‘ I enjoy traveling and learning about cultures. And being a part of something like the Olympics is a great honor on its own.”

Kimiko Kimori didn’t have to travel halfway around the world to take part in Tokyo 2020. She is from Tokyo. Her experience in hospitality and hospitals has helped her to develop a strong sense of customer service. When asked why she is volunteering, her reply was, “These experiences are an opportunity to expand your activities to the world. I can still speak English, so I definitely wanted to join the team behind the scenes of the Tokyo Olympics, look at things from various angles, and join the bridge of world peace.”

At the end of the day, I believe that all of us Tokyo 2020 Field Cast members are excited to help make the world a better place through our service, participation, and sharing of positivity. We have a saying among volunteers, “I will shine.” Despite the year of waiting, the challenges brought on by Corona and the thousands of people that resigned from the Field Cast team, those of who are left, City Cast included, intend to show the world that Tokyo is an awesome place and that there are people here who are determined to be beacons of hope for the entire world.

First Published on Medium.com June 29, 2021

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin