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What's Up UA? - Olympics Interns Share Sochi Experiences

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Three University of Arizona students recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where they worked as NBCUniversal interns at the Winter Olympics.

The opportunity gave them valuable hands-on experience outside the classroom, which is a key goal of the University's "100 percent student engagement" initiative.

Joseph Shaw and Desiree Piazza, both seniors majoring in Russian and Slavic studies, worked in guest services at the games. Heather Smyser, who has a master's degree in Russian and Slavic studies from the UA and is currently pursuing her doctorate in second language acquisition and teaching, worked as a production assistant. All three are fluent in Russian.

NBCUniversal approached the UA in search of interns because of the University's strong programs in Russian language and culture.

We caught up with the student interns to hear about their experience.

What was the most memorable part of your time in Sochi?

JS: My most memorable time in Sochi was attending the USA vs. Russia men's hockey game. I've been to many sporting events, but I've never experienced an atmosphere as intense as that!

HS: With so many memories, it's hard to choose the one that sticks out the most. That said, I don't think I'll ever forget sitting in the stands right in front of Mikaela Shiffrin's family, watching the second run for the women's slalom, waiting for her turn to finally come, and then cheering her on as she raced and made history. The excitement of the Americans in the stands was palpable, and there was a collective gasp as she barely caught herself at the top of the race. Although it only took a minute for her to finish, it felt substantially longer. Seeing her cross the line, you couldn’t help but cheer and leap for joy!

DP: One of the most memorable things about Sochi was witnessing spectators and athletes, from all over the world, come together for such a thrilling sporting event. 

What did you learn from the experience? 

JS: I learned more than I could have hoped for while working for NBC. One thing that comes to mind is that I need to appreciate just how much goes into an event like the Olympic Games. It's easy to sit at home and scrutinize; but after working behind the scenes, I now can appreciate just how much man and brainpower is required to put that all together.

HS: I learned so much from this experience and am so thankful for the opportunity to have been able to observe everything that goes into producing a sports segment. Once the games started, I spent a lot of time in our production truck, ready to get anything any one might need, since once the races started, the men and women there were pretty much glued to their seats until editing was done. More often than not, this meant I was able to watch the feeds coming in and see when it was time to switch between cameras. Listening to them discuss, you start to get a feel for what"makes the show" and that the most important part of your job is to bring out the story.

DP: I walked away from this experience learning how much hard work and dedication pays off and about what opportunities are out there when you are passionate about something. 

How will this experience help you with your future goals?

JS: This internship will help me with my future goals in several ways. First, it is extremely valuable resume experience. Second, it has exposed me to the heart of the corporate work world, and given me a better understanding of how businesses and their staff work at the highest level.

HS: Honestly, prior to this experience I never had any experience with broadcast, and so now that I’ve returned, I'd love to get more experience in the field. At the moment, my career goals are pretty open due to the difficulty of finding jobs in this economy, and I can see myself using this experience to forge a new career path or to inform my teaching, should I end up in academia. I could definitely use the production experience, should I teach a composition class, since you focus so much on crafting a good story for a short segment. That means you have to listen for appropriate sound bites, or in writing quotes, and frame the story in such a way that it engages your audience.

DP: I gained credibility and experience that can be put toward my desire to become an interpreter. I leave in the summer for the Marine Corps, and I aspire to work as a linguist for them. 

How did your time at the UA prepare you for this internship?

JS: My time as a Russian studies major and an Air Force ROTC cadet here at the University of Arizona has greatly contributed to preparing me for this internship. Our Russian department is fantastic, and I had no issues with the language barrier. Sochi was a high-pressure, high-speed work environment, similar to what I've experienced during various military training exercises as a cadet. Overall, I felt extremely prepared.

HS: So much of my coursework has included discussions of culture and cultural competence, so it helped me to be aware of the differences in Russian and American cultures, broadly speaking, and to articulate these to people who have never had the opportunity to work with someone from the other culture. Having already had these discussions, I was able to anticipate what might surprise my colleagues and be ready to answer their questions. Also, had it not been for the work I did in the Russian program, I would have had quite a few problems with understanding some of the Russian speakers I was around since their dialect can differ quite a bit from what I was exposed to in Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer.

DP: The UA more than prepared me for this internship by possessing an outstanding Russian department and study abroad programs that have allowed me to obtain the proficiency that I have.

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