Taking OT to South Korea: My Journey to Become a 2018 Winter Olympics Volunteer

Send Lauren to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics!

Check out my Fund My Travel page for updates, information, and to donate!

As an occupational therapist, I help individuals of all ages increase their independence, engage in meaningful activity, and achieve their personal goals. In addition to being a dedicated healthcare professional, I am an avid traveler. I’ve been to places all over the United States, Puerto Rico, and even Nicaragua! However, I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to the eastern part of the world and experience the culture, language, and opportunities that exist there. Between working, spending time with family, and volunteering in multiple organizations, it’s been difficult to find time to travel. But I’m always on the lookout for great opportunities to serve and explore the world!

Several years ago, I was watching the Olympic Games and wondering how such a large-scale, high-stakes international event was organized every couple of years. After doing a little research, I learned that Olympics volunteers were a huge part of the equation, and that thousands of people from all over the world were selected as support staff for each Olympics event!

Then my wheels began to turn…and it all made perfect sense! Healthcare professional + Avid traveler = Olympics volunteer! As soon as the 2018 Winter Olympics volunteer application opened in July 2016, I entered my information and buckled down for the long wait.

Click below to learn more about my journey to becoming a 2018 Winter Olympics volunteer, and how you can help send me to South Korea!

Why the Winter Olympics?

As an occupational therapist and as a private citizen, I believe that service to my community and causes I care about is something I have always been called to do. From my early volunteer experiences at local animal shelters and libraries to more recent experiences with children at my church and professional associations, I have always had a drive to use my time and talents to serve others.

I’m hopeful that in addition to serving other people, I will also benefit personally from my time as an Olympics volunteer. Our nation is becoming more diverse every day, and working alongside volunteers from all over the world will help me hone my collaboration and cultural humility skills, in addition to helping me increase my knowledge of various cultures, which will be invaluable to me as I continue to grow professionally. Additionally, I hope that volunteering will open doors for me as I continue to engage in national and international events and perhaps even carve out a niche as the first official Olympics occupational therapist – who knows!
As an Olympics volunteer, I will be able to help thousands of Olympics attendees, athletes, and others from all over the world find their way and enjoy their time in Pyeongchang, and I can’t wait!


Against All Odds

When I decided to apply, I knew that getting selected would be a long shot – over 90,000 people submitted applications in 2016, and the 2018 Olympics Committee would only accept about 22,400 people (25% of applicants).

According to the Pyeongchang 2018 website, “The total pool of volunteers …will be 22,400 [people]. This is made up of 16,318 local applicants, 947 international applicants, and 5,135 group applicants.” Only 14% of applications were from overseas, with 1,158 from the United States. If you crunch the numbers, I basically had a 1 in 90,000 shot at this amazing opportunity…or a 0.001% chance.

Since I obviously don’t live in South Korea, I was already at a disadvantage as an international applicant. However, I decided to click “Submit” in spite of the odds!


Patience Pays Off

After I submitted my volunteer application, there was nothing for me to do but wait. And wait. And WAIT SOME MORE.

Finally, six months later in February 2017, I learned that I had advanced to the second round interview process! Excitedly, I entered my information into the online portal and scheduled a Skype interview for 7 AM EST on a dreary February morning. The night before the interview I could barely sleep (which is just as well, since I had to get up at 6AM to get ready anyway). However, the interview seemed to go well and I continued on with my life, wondering whether or not I would eventually make it through.

Finally, just last week, I opened my email to discover…a congratulatory email from the 2018 Winter Olympics team! I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it, and immediately started freaking out.


Of course, when I finally calmed down enough to tell my husband the great news, he said… “That’s amazing! But how are we going to pay for it?

It did put a bit of a damper on my celebration, but I realized he was right. How was I going to be able to afford this adventure?


The Price of Participation

Being an Olympics volunteer is an amazing – and expensive – opportunity. The only things that are paid for are my volunteer uniform and one or two meal vouchers per day. Hence the fundraising campaign! In case you’re wondering, here’s what it costs to be an Olympic volunteer:

  • Travel: A flight from RDU to Seoul will be $880-1100.
  • Lodging: Volunteers are not guaranteed lodging during the Winter Games. I will have to pay $500-$700 out of pocket for a safe place to stay overseas.
  • Food: Olympics volunteers receive a voucher for one or two meals per day, depending on which shifts they are working. All other meals are paid by the individual.
  • Gear: Although the uniform is paid for, I will have to obtain clothing, footwear, and accessories that will enable me to brave the cold during the Games!


All in all, I am expecting at least $2000 in expenses, and probably more. And although I’ve been saving my pennies for a little while now, I can’t do it alone! That’s where I hope my friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers will help make this happen.


How You Can Help

I hope that in reading this you’ve found a reason to donate to my cause. Whether you’re a world traveler wanting to help me get another stamp on my passport, a stranger with ten bucks to spare, or an old friend who wants a picture of me being forced to eat foreign food (!!!), every little bit helps!

I’ll be sharing updates on my Fund My Travel page and here on my blog throughout the year, and I hope I’ll be saying hello to you from South Korea soon!




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