Carla Rodriguez, Coordinator in New Student & Carolina Parent Programs, shared her experience as a volunteer for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games:
“My volunteer position was a National Olympic Committee (NOC) Assistant to the delegation from Kosovo. We helped them with whatever they needed throughout the day such as setting up transportation, prepping for competitions, and lots of translating. We were with them in the Olympic Village as well as competition venues to support their delegation staff and athletes. This was their first time at the Olympics and they won their first Gold Medal in Judo!
“One day a volunteer was explaining to a little girl on the bus what we were doing and used such simple words “we are here to help each other”. The little girl smiled and said “that’s wonderful!” It was a wonder to see people genuinely trying to help each other in whatever mix of languages and hand signals they knew. It was interpersonal communication at its finest. I met people from all over the world and spoken some combination of every language I know (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian). I even met a Tar Heel on the train to the Olympic Park! Yes, the trips to and from work were long and my feet may have hurt but the experience of the exchange was a priceless gem.
“I was able to watch 5 spectacular young women win Gold in gymnastics live and there are not enough emojis out there to adequately express how it felt to be in that arena. One of my childhood dreams was fulfilled. While it was sad to say farewell to the NOC center and the Olympic Village, it was truly the opportunity of a lifetime to represent my country as a volunteer and apply my skills in such a global setting.
“I left Rio full of appreciation for the beauty of simple human interaction. It is so crucial to look up from our screens and have genuine conversations. There are stories to be told and heard. I want to be very clear that those weeks were not a vacation. They were time spent engaged in communities I care deeply about and want to give back to as much as possible. Whether it be by talking with children, dancing because it feels good, using a language you know well or only a little, it is a gift to be able to connect with people, no matter where they are from, what language they speak or how old they are. I encourage everyone to find things that take energy but fill you with purpose. Stop and lend a hand to someone. A small amount of attention and listening go a long way.”