I can't even begin to tell you how awesome of a feeling it was to be at these Olympics. Even though I was only there for a short period of time, I don't think that I could have had (or ever will have) and Olympic experience as good as this one.
There are so many factors that have made this as awesome as it was.
Photography: I used to love photography as a kid and pretty would always take pictures whenever I went on any major trip as a kid. As I got older and digital cameras started coming out, I could never afford them and only had enough money to buy a film camera when I was in high school. After about my third year in Korea that camera broke and considering that the price of a new camera was so high I gave up photography for nearly 10 years. Then a year and a half ago as I started learning how to code, a friend of mine told me that he was going to sell a digital camera he had and so I immediately bought it. I feel in love with Photography all over again and have been carrying a camera with me every where I go ever since. So when I finally knew that I was going to go to the Olympics, I was so excited about the posiblity of getting some great pictures that I went nuts! I bought extra batteries and memory cards just to make sure that I wouldn't have to worry about not having enough memory and batteries to run my cameras. I took nearly 2500 pictures ^_^. So needless to say, the renewal of my love of photography greatly increased the enjoyment of my Olympic experience. (and hopefully for those of you who end up reading this as well)
Dreams do come true: I have always wanted to go to the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first Olympics I can remember were the 1988 Winter Olympics held here in Seoul South Korea, that and the fact that this is the country I was adopted from, I have always felt like I had a special connection with the two. I remember wanting to go when I was younger because I was fascinated with the winter sports and the fact that people from so many nations were gathered in one place. I am not sure now, but I guess at the time I must have felt like that was a place where I could fit in.
Now for the first time in my life I was in a position where I could go to the Olympics 30 years later and It was back in the country where I had first been introduced to the Olympics so many years ago!
Language / Culture : Learning a new language is one of the greatest signs of respect you can give someone. It shows that you took the time to learn and understand more about their culture. These days a lot of people all over the world can speak English, but if you take the time to learn another language so that you can be able to speak to people from a different country in their language, It will help you to foster a better relationship with them then just speaking English ever could. Or at least in my experience, I have found that to be true.
Being able to speak Korean and having lived here for more than 16 years drastically improved this experience because I got to appreciate all of the different nuances that most people would miss just by watching the olympics on TV for example. Especially if they didn't understand the language. Things such as commentary from Korean announcers and fans and or translations from the many volunteers. Most of them did a wonderful job however there were a few here and there whose translations were a bit comical.
This olympic was also unique because for some reason the north and south decided to show a unified front for these games. For those of you who don't know, reunification is still a very touch subject here in South Korea. As a matter of fact, the majority of the people my age are against it, but I won't get into that in this post. Regardless of how myself or any else feels about this matter, being able to watch the North Korean fans root for both the South and North Korean athletes in person was just a powerful experience in and of itself. The fact that I could understand what they were saying ("We are one") with my own ears and didn't have to rely on a translator made it that much more special for me. It felt almost more personal in a way as if they were saying it directly to me..
Meeting old Friends: I would be lying to you if I said Josh Spaulding's experience in Sochi four years ago didn't impact me at all. As a matter of fact, it was reading his blogs daily and seeing his facebook posts that rekindled my desire to go to the Olympics in the first place. It was obvious that he was enjoying the experience immensely and when I heard that the next winter Olympics were going to be here in South Korea , I asked him if he was going to come. He said he wasn't sure at the time in which I remember telling him, if he does that I knew a great translator for him. ^_^
So when I finally got to see him on my second and final day at the olympics that in itself was like another dream come true on so many levels. Josh and I went to UNH together and were in the marching band and pep bands. We also both worked at Philbrook dining hall (at UNH) and joined the same fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi. as a matter of fact we are in the same fraternity family line. Needless to say he played a rather large part of me settling into college life. In a way he was literally like an older brother to me. Not that he took me under his wing or showed any favoritism towards me or anything like that (he always treated everyone with the same respect and consideration) but because he was (and still is) just one of those honest guys that you meet once in a life time and once you have met them, you know you have made a great friend.
When we finally met in Korea in typical older brother fashion he shared with me all his wisdom and knowledge about the Olympics and athletes from the US. for example I had no idea that Chloe Kim was talented enough to be on the Olympic team four years ago when she was only 13 years old but was denied a spot on the Olympic team due to her age!
I took him for some "Bu-dae-Jji-gae" which is roughly translated as "military stew" as I wanted to show him a side of Korea that he may not have been able to experience on his own. (Its a stew that the Korean and American soldiers made by combing the rations that they had during the Korean War. The main ingredients are beans, spam, onions, ramyun, and cheese and is eaten with a bowl of rice. It taste better than it sounds LOL) I wasn't sure if he was going to like it or not but I figured at the bare minimum it might be a good story for him should he choose to write about it or a good memory of these olympics.
He definitely added a whole new dynamic to my olympic experience.
The Korean American Presence at the Olympics: As a Korean American adoptee myself. I was amazed to find out that there were so many Korean American athletes at these olympics! I can't stress how much I love this because I have always said that Koreans are some of the most talented people I have ever met in my life. Its just a shame that Korean culture doesn't really allow the so many talented people there are to showcase their abilities. Without getting to into too much detail. Korean culture and the education system here still focuses too much on academics and so you don't see a lot of children who are allowed to venture in to different area such as snowboarding and speed skating for example. I don't mean to say that it doesn't happen, only that for the most part, children are not encouraged to pursue those kinds of activities much less a career in those fields. So it is my hope that with all the talented Korean American athletes at these olympics that the culture changes here and that more and more of todays young Koreans (especially the girls as Korea is still very much a patriarchal society) are encouraged and inspired to strive for other goals as well and not just academics.
I was watching a news program today in which a man stated that Korea doesn't really have a good system in which to support and encourage todays athletes much less future athletes. He stated that today its still very much about who you know and not necessarily how talented you are or how much potential that you might have. So in essence it seems that becoming an Olympian in Korea requires a lot of luck. Regardless, the mere fact that this issue was address on TV is a good sign because it shows that they are aware that this is an area where there needs to be improvement and if nothing else, they are at least talking about the right issue. I hope to see more and better things in the future for Korea and it's future athletes.
Diversity: In closing, one of the best things that really made this olympic experience so great was being surround by so many people from all of the world. I think its one of those things that we all take for granted. Despite our different cultural backgrounds and our dissapointments when our respective countries' athletes didn't quiet finish as well as we had hoped, many people still congratulated the other fans around them on their country's win. During the award ceremony many people also turn around and showed respect to one another flags as their national anthems were played. The sense of unity that I felt amongst all those people in that moment is something that I will cherish forever...