UO students connect with 2014 World Junior Championships

UO Ambassador Program

Do you speak Finnish?

If so, the University of Oregon hopes you’ll join an elite group of student ambassadors, who are volunteering their foreign language and cultural competency skills for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assist their peers from around the globe.

In July of 2014, Oregon plays host to the world’s best track and field athletes under the age of 20 as the IAAF World Junior Championships come to Hayward Field, and U.S. soil, for the first time in history.

This is a meet unlike any other.

An estimated 1,800 junior athletes, representing as many as 212 countries from around the world, will arrive in TrackTown USA for six days of competition from July 22-27.

The student ambassador program, the first of its kind to be developed for this event, will help bridge the language and cultural barriers which exist between the visiting athletes and their host country.

Since the UO began seeking volunteers in October, the program has generated 240 applicants, according to Dennis Galvan, Vice Provost for International Affairs at the University of Oregon.

So, what’s the program’s target number?

“Originally, we were aiming for 100 ambassadors,” Galvan said. “That was based on the size of the various federations, and their language needs as presented to us by TrackTown USA.”

TrackTown USA is the local organizing committee for the 2016 IAAF World Junior Championships.

Galvan said there are about a dozen languages still unaccounted for in the UO student ambassador program, mostly those from countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Hence the need for someone who speaks Moldovan.

If necessary, the UO is prepared to reach out to other people in the community, and elsewhere in the state, to fill those gaps.

The applicants for the UO student ambassador program will undergo an online screening process. Besides a written component, the students will be individually interviewed and asked a series of questions to demonstrate the quality of their communication and decision-making skills, and cross-cultural understanding.

“This is a way for us to see who is really good at using their skills,” Galvan said.

The ongoing education process includes two optional classes – a winter term course on global sports and politics, and a spring term course in sports marketing.

“These are not required classes, but they’re highly recommended,” Galvan said. “It’s a really good orientation for the student ambassadors, so hopefully, large numbers will take them.”

The final step is a free, required one-credit course from mid-June to July that focuses on the “nuts and bolts” of the specific duties that a UO student ambassador will be asked to perform during the duration of the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships.

They will receive specialized training in problem-solving and how to best present the University of Oregon to the rest of the world.

“We’ll show them how you do cross-cultural hosting,” Galvan said. “There will be some training on how to be a good listener. How you should present Eugene, and the U.S., to young people from other countries.

“How you explain the history of TrackTown USA, the density of how much running goes on in this community, and how important it is to people’s lives, from professionals to amateurs.”

And what do the UO student ambassadors get in return?

They’ll walk alongside young athletes from around the world, become an integral part of their team, share in the excitement of international competition at Hayward Field, and get inside access to an event that has never before been held in the U.S.

At the same time, they’ll gain valuable career skills in diplomacy, foreign service, hospitality, event coordination and teamwork.

“These student ambassadors will be on the front line,” Galvan said. “It’s important they can explain who we are.”

And, from a global perspective, that’s a win-win situation.