International Students Embrace Hassles and Opportunities of Olympics

The U was only one of five choices Saara Ollikainen specified on her student exchange application.

The Finnish student had no strong preference and didn’t know she would end up in Utah during the 2002 Winter Games.

And while she didn’t expect to be so close to the action, Ollikainen “thought it would be a good and interesting experience to be here during the Olympics.”

Winter sports are popular in Finland, and Ollikainen has watched the Olympic Games since she was a kid.

Like many other international students, Ollikainen is unsure how the Olympics will affect her the most. She predicts that it will probably be difficult to go to school for a month and then come back after a whole month off.

“It is good they have some second session classes that start after the Olympics,” Ollikainen said.

Yared Fubusa, on the other hand, thought he knew what he was getting into when he came to the U for his masters and doctorate program in Parks and Recreation Therapy.

“If the Olympic Committee can select Utah, that means that Utah is something so special, so unique compared to other states. Obviously, it is a kind of prestige to work in a town where the Olympics will be held,” he said.

However, now that the effects are imminent and apparent, Fubusa has changed his mind.

“Now I think it’s different. The Olympics have nothing to do with me, it’s making me a victim. Next semester will be so short, it is going to be divided into pieces so it is going to affect my program of study,” he said.

Every U student will inevitably experience some effect from such a long interruption of classes. International students, however, have another issue to deal with.

The temporary loss of U housing to the Olympic Village is having a major impact on international students.

The International Center tried to discourage any students from beginning their semester or year abroad at the U this spring.

Those students, like Ollikainen, who arrived in the fall and will continue their studies through Spring Semester, had the option of moving to the old dorms.

However, Valerie Green, an adviser at the International Center, said, “Some students took one look at the old dorms and said ‘Uh-uh, I’m breaking my contract, I’ll find a place off campus.'”

But doing that may not be so easy for many international students who likely do not have family or connections in the Salt Lake Valley.

“Some [international students] lack the skills to find a place on their own,” Green said.

Ollikainen had to move from her own room in the “nice new dorms” to the old dorms where she has to share.

“It’s OK,” she said. She was grateful to U housing for providing boxes, labels, and actually moving everything to the old dorms.

Fubusa, who is from a small village in Tanzania, decided not to move to the old dorms.

“A dorm is a dorm,” Fubusa explained, “you never know what kind of people will be your roommates [and] you have to share a bathroom with more than a dozen people. You never know what to expect.”

While classes are in session, Fubusa will depend on the generosity of a host family, friends and colleagues, staying for a few days with each so as not to wear out his welcome.

“Here there are very generous people, so I don’t think I will ever sleep outside,” Fubusa said. “Actually, if I had a tent and a car, I’d just take my tent, sleep here for three days and go another place and stay four days [and] keep my stuff in the car.”

During the Games, he plans to take advantage of the long break to travel. “I have friends all over the world so I can easily afford [to travel,]” he said.

“If they have no interest in being here, a lot of international students are going to travel because it is a whole month off,” Ollikainen said.

As for herself, though, she’s interested in being a part of the Olympic atmosphere because “in Finland winter sports are really big so it is exciting to be in the Olympic city.”

But like most international students on a one-year exchange, Ollikainen arrived too late to volunteer with Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

“Study Abroad students got here when the volunteering was already closed,” said Amie Romanowski, a French major who works in the International Center office.

However, students who have been at the U longer are volunteering. Tiffany Yen is studying organizational communication. She is from Taiwan and will work as a volunteer with spectators and athletes who come from her country.

“I think that it will be very exciting and interesting to take part in the Games. That is why I chose this place [the U] and became a volunteer,” Yen said.

Yen’s volunteer work might interfere with her regular job teaching Chinese on Saturdays. She is not sure yet. Yen isn’t too worried about that, though.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience and this kind of memory is priceless,” she said. “Even though I can’t go home to celebrate the Chinese New Year with my family, I still believe that this choice [to volunteer] is a wise and worthy decision.”

Other international students do not seem to be phased at all by the coming of the Olympics.

Xin Guan, a bioengineering graduate student, is excited for the Olympics and is staying in town. She doesn’t have to move or change jobs, and she won’t be volunteering.

“I am a graduate research assistant,” Guan explained. “I have to work on my thesis project.”

For Guan, the Olympics will mean more leadership experience with her position as Chinese Student Association President.

“[The] Olympics give me more opportunity to work with the community and other organizations,” Guan said. The association is planning to work with other local Chinese organizations to put on a Chinese spring festival featuring the Olympic Games. “This is a great breakthrough. I think I will learn a lot from this work,” Guan said.

Fubusa, who says that the Games will bring him no “personal benefit,” acknowledges that February will be his “bonus time” to travel. And Fubusa is actually looking forward to living the “homeless” life.

“I’ve never been homeless,” he said. “I’d like to be.”

That kind of life has its benefits. “I don’t have to pay rent,” Fubusa said with a smile.

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