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Today, I have a treat for you — the first in my as-yet-untitled interview series! From time to time, I’ll be interviewing travelers with really interesting backgrounds — and Edna Zhou of Expat Edna, is one of them.
You may remember that Edna, a fellow American adventurer, hosted me in Singapore a year and a half ago. Since then, she’s moved to Paris, gotten engaged to a handsome Brit, and landed her dream job — as a journalist at the London Olympics!
Working at the Olympics might seem like an impossible dream, but Edna is living proof that it’s not out of reach. Let’s hear it, Edna!
AK: You’re 23 years old and your last job was working for a reality show in Singapore. How on Earth did you land this dream job?!
EZ: I got my start in 2010, during the summer after graduation. I’d moved to Singapore on a whim, meaning I had no job lined up and a lot of free time — so I decided to volunteer at the Youth Olympic Games. I ended up based in the Main Press Center, where I worked hard as a volunteer and walked away with a few contacts in the Olympics media circuit. Those people then put me in touch with their contacts after the Games.
In 2011 (a couple months after I left said reality TV job), I worked with one of those contacts at the Universiade Games in China — and they ended up being the same people who brought me out to London this summer.
So it was a bit of luck (meeting the right people at the right time) and hard work, combined with doing those smaller events which gave me further experience and contacts.
What was a typical day like for you at the Olympics?
Every day was different, but most days went something like this: In the morning I would either go straight to the Main Press Center (MPC), or I would first head off to a media launch, interview, or some other one-off event. If it was the latter, I wouldn’t arrive at the MPC until late afternoon, at which point I’d file my story about the morning’s event then head off to the evening’s sports finals.
On the days I went straight to the MPC, I would go to the IOC daily media briefing in the morning, then write, edit, and research other stories in the afternoon. In the evenings I’d head to either the Aquatics Center or Olympic Stadium, since I covered swimming and athletics. The events usually ran until 9pm, then I’d stick around for the press conferences which usually lasted another couple hours. I’d file my story, then make my way home from East London to Islington and get to bed around 2, 2:30 am.
There were always variations though: whether it was attending the opening of an Olympic House, an evening interview that meant I couldn’t cover an event, or a night of poorly timed transport that didn’t see me going to bed until 4am, each day had its surprises. The only constant was that I filed at least one story (sometimes two or three) a day.
Did you get to interview any celebrity athletes?
I was meant to interview Ryan Lochte at a sponsor event, but he ran out of time and I didn’t get a one-on-one. I still picked up some good quotes from listening to his interviews with the other journalists there, though.
This person’s not an athlete, but I did also get to interview Khaliah Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, at a ceremony celebrating world peace.
What advice do you have for people interested in working for the Sochi or Rio Olympics?
Here are two things I’ve learned about this field:
- This is a circuit where you have to pay your dues — and by that I mean if you’re coming straight out of university, expect to work at least an event or two for free before you start getting paid. The Olympics are the big leagues — everyone else has put in years (sometimes decades) of work to get here, so of course you should too. Last year I spent a month in Australia volunteering on the media team at the World Sailing Championships, and all of that – flights, accommodation, etc. – I covered on my own. But I did it because I wanted the experience and to show that I was passionate about working in this field.
- Network early, network often. It’s obviously quite a specialized field, international sports events — so people not only know each other, but will call on old colleagues for help at future events. So network like mad, and be careful not to burn any bridges, because everyone knows everyone. I only worked three events (Singapore, China, Australia) prior to the Olympics, yet I kept running into old colleagues from each of those events in London.
So basically, get involved, network, and start NOW if you want to get in for Sochi or Rio.
What about volunteering at the Olympics?
Volunteering is wonderful. That’s how I got my start, and not only is it a great entry point into the field in terms of meeting people and networking, but it also gives you valuable insight into the organizing side of these events. I felt more prepared going into London because I already knew the ins and outs of media workroom operations (like what a ‘pigeon hole’ is and why I should use it) since I’d volunteered at the MPC in Singapore.
Plenty of high school and college students are interested in working for the Olympics someday. Which steps do you recommend they take now?
For one thing, major in a relevant field! I never expected to be going down this career path; it was such a distant pipe dream for me that I didn’t even try to chase it. So I studied…politics. Now that I’m working in journalism and media I really wish I’d majored in communications instead.
Finally, work on gaining experience in your field, whether it’s journalism, broadcasting, marketing, whatever you’re interested in. If the Olympics are really what you want to do, put in the hard work now and make sure your passion shines through — it will pay off in the future.
What are some of the upcoming Olympic events where it would be good to gain experience?
Here are the upcoming events:
2014: Nanjing, China: Summer Youth Olympic Games
2014: Sochi, Russia: Winter Olympic Games
2016: Lillehammer, Norway: Winter Youth Olympic Games
2016: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Summer Olympic Games
2018: Pyeongchang, South Korea: Winter Olympic Games
That’s as far as the IOC has decided; in 2013 they’ll announce the hosts of the 2018 YOG and 2020 Olympics.
Will we see you in Sochi in 2014?
I certainly hope so!