Rio Olympics 2016: 3 days to go

Olympics: Much to go through but more to gain

Budi Wu, a member of local sports volunteer group Team Nila, had to pass a series of tests and interviews before he could volunteer at the Olympics. He also spent about $4,500 on flights and accommodation.
Budi Wu, a member of local sports volunteer group Team Nila, had to pass a series of tests and interviews before he could volunteer at the Olympics. He also spent about $4,500 on flights and accommodation.PHOTO COURTESY OF BUDI WU

Overseas volunteers face tedious process to get to Rio, but say the experience is worth it

While most of undergraduates in Singapore are getting ready for the start of the new semester next week, Nanyang Technological University student Huang Mengran will instead be among 50,000 volunteers preparing for the start of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The 23-year-old Materials Science and Engineering student has taken a three-week leave of absence from school to volunteer at the Games, which begin on Friday.

There in Rio, she will provide language and administrative support as a delegation assistant.

For the Qingdao native, her stint at this year's Games is the culmination of an eight-year dream.

Back in 2008, the Olympics came to her town, as the Beijing Games sailing competition was held at the Shandong seaside city.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the phone, Huang said: "I was below 18 years old then, so I couldn't be a volunteer.

"But I was lucky to witness live the glorious moments of competition, and the dedication of all the athletes and volunteers."

For most volunteers like Huang, assisting in the massive sports extravaganza is the next best thing to being a participating athlete at the Games.

Yet, the path to become a volunteer also has its fair share of difficulties.

For Indonesia-born Singaporean Budi Wu, who is part of local sports volunteer group Team Nila, language proficiency was an obstacle.

"I didn't apply to volunteer at the previous Games (in 2012) because my English still wasn't good enough," said the 34-year-old programmer.

"Now, I've also saved enough money to go to Brazil."

The price of volunteering does not come cheap - Huang has spent about $4,000, while Wu is also some $4,500 poorer, after paying for flights and accommodation.

Aspiring overseas volunteers also have to pass a series of tests and interviews.

Wu's fellow Team Nila member, financial services ambassador Norsidah Hassan, will also represent the Republic as a volunteer in Rio.

The 46-year-old, who has been volunteering at sports events for the past 11/2 years, said that she took a language-proficiency test and attended three interviews since submitting her application online a year ago.

So, after the long-drawn administrative process to become Games volunteers, it is no wonder that they are unfazed by reports of poor organisation and security in the Brazilian city.

Huang, who has been vaccinated against malaria and yellow fever, said: "My volunteer friends who arrived before me sent me photos of the Olympic Village and venues, and they look very well managed.

"So I want to see what it's really like, instead of just hearing what other people have been telling me."

Wu added: "All volunteers are meant to give the best experience to the delegations to make the Games successful... I hope this isn't my only experience as a volunteer. I'll definitely try again for future editions of the Games."

•Additional reporting by Nicola Chew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Much to go through but more to gain'. Print Edition | Subscribe