Years ago, a young Chapel Hill undergraduate student served as a staff member in the Olympic athletes’ village at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She got up early, commuted on a bus for 45 minutes to the village, solved problems all day, smiled at everyone, worked late, and caught a bus back to the staff hotel.
Why was she so motivated? Why didn’t she do as little as possible, find every opportunity to get out of working, and finagle tickets to every athletic event she could find? Why didn’t she wander through the Forbidden City or party in the bars near Nanluoguxiang? How did she display such positivity, determination, and grit?
She says she had a job to do, didn’t want to miss anything, and was being trusted to deliver. She understood how fortunate she was to be in Beijing, and how the experience might influence her career aspirations.
This month, we are creating similar opportunities for Queens students. They are working in the supremely photogenic Rio de Janeiro, collaborating on bilingual teams with Brazilian students, and creating stories that could be distributed locally or nationally. That said, the kind of experience they have in Rio is completely up to them. People in half a dozen different organizations have invested significant amounts of planning, money, time, and experience in the project. Now it’s up to students to reap the benefits. It’s possible to mix business with pleasure, but it’s a balancing act.
I believe that some of these students will amaze us. The reality of the experience will elevate many to a level we haven’t seen before.
In 1979 the French filmmaker, Louis Malle, shot a documentary film in Minnesota, God’s Country, mostly about Americans mowing their grass. At the time Malle was depressed and bored with formal, fictional filmmaking, so he went on a quest to film things that were interesting to him, and that he didn’t quite understand. One of the things he didn’t understand was why American enjoyed mowing the grass. After Malle’s documentary quest, he came back refreshed. He produced critically acclaimed, box-office hits like “My Dinner with Andrè,” and “Au revoir les enfants”.
Malle became a better version of himself, because he was met with challenges and decided to overcome those challenges in a positive way. He didn’t start drinking. Along the way he learned a little bit more about the world and the way it works. More importantly, he learned more about himself, which allowed him to be a better version of himself. This is a typical hero’s journey. I believe this journey is the ultimate goal of the international program our students are embarking on today: to learn more about the world so they may become better people.
Image from Louis Malle’s God’s Country