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UA students share Sochi experiences

n22714olympicscourtesyofjosephshawrgb

Courtesy of Joseph Shaw

Students from the UA interned at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

UA students recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where they had the opportunity of a lifetime to work as interns with NBC at the Olympics.

Two of the students, Desiree Piazza and Joseph Shaw, both Russian and Slavic studies seniors, were hired as translators. They had many tasks while in Sochi, working as personal translators to guests, guiding people in and out of Olympic events and working in offices, Shaw said.

The third UA student, Heather Smyser, a second language acquisition and teaching graduate student, was hired as a runner. Smyser said that she worked entirely behind the scenes, helping to gather and prepare all of the necessary materials before the games began. Once the Olympics were underway, she was placed in production, ensuring that all of the NBC employees and managers had what they needed to perform their jobs.

Piazza, who is double-majoring in Russian and Slavic studies and Arabic studies, said that she switched majors from aerospace after her freshman year because of her love of languages and has found many opportunities as a result.

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“People say, ‘Oh, you’re majoring in a language? What are you going to do in life?’ But what am I not going to do?” Piazza said. “I don’t regret it at all.”

Shaw said that he became interested in Russian as a way to further his career in the U.S. Air Force.

“I’m in Air Force ROTC … and they made it pretty clear that if I switched [to a critical language] I would be more competitive,” Shaw said.

NBC contacted the UA Russian department for this internship. Piazza said that she thought this was because of the program’s extensive study abroad opportunities and experienced professors.

Piazza said that they didn’t experience any of the problems that many other Americans encountered, in that they had clean water, laundry service and fully functional door handles. But Piazza said she found that many Russians had already come to associate America with the complaints that became so popular.

“A lot of Russians would come up to us and say, ‘Why does America hate Russia? Why are your American television stations talking about us?’” Piazza said.

The interns had the opportunity to go to many different Olympic events, including the Opening Ceremonies, hockey games and more. Shaw said that he particularly enjoyed the USA-Russia men’s hockey game, while Piazza said her favorite event was snowboarding.

Smyser said that her job mostly took her behind the scenes, so she was unable to meet many Olympians, while Piazza and Shaw had a different experience. Piazza said many Canadian and Polish athletes were staying in their hotel.

“When you woke up in the morning to go down and get breakfast, they’re all sitting there in their team uniforms,” Piazza said.

The area they were staying in was small without a lot of places to go, so Piazza and Shaw often met athletes out on the town.

“If we went out on any given night … we [might] run into the entire Canadian ski team,” Piazza said.

Shaw said that he got to chat with Kaitlyn Farrington, who won the gold medal for the women’s halfpipe event, as well as other Olympic athletes.

“I hung out with some Argentinian skiers by accident,” Shaw said. “They were sitting next to me at a race.”

Piazza said that the most memorable Olympian she met was Sage Kotsenburg, the U.S. snowboarder who took the gold for the men’s slopestyle. She said that she got to shake his hand right before he went on TV for an interview with “The Today Show.”

“He was, by far, one of the coolest athletes, or just celebrities in general, that I’ve ever met,” Piazza said. “He was just so cool about it.”

Smyser said that one of her favorite memories was witnessing an American receive the gold medal. She said that she was in the stands to ensure that the NBC crew would be able to capture Mikaela Shiffrin’s reaction when she won the gold medal in women’s slalom.

“Hearing the reaction … from the Americans in the stands when she won gold was just priceless,” Smyser said.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sage Kotsenburg won gold in men’s slopestyle. Iouri Podladtchikov won gold in men’s slopestyle.


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