Youth Volunteer Culture at the PyeongChang Olympics

Bonnie Tilland, Ph.D.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
W10,000 (non-member); W5,000 student (with student ID; free for members

Bring Out the “Passion Crews”: Youth Volunteer Culture at the PyeongChang Olympics

This project explores national hopes and new directions in South Korean globalization through an investigation of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, centered on youth volunteering, etiquette campaigns, and other youth-oriented mobilizations around the major sporting event. Many of the domestic recruiting ads for volunteers focused on the vibrancy of youth, and at the Opening Ceremony it was easy to see why: international Twitter buzzed with alternating praise and bewilderment over the circle of volunteers in the center of the Olympic Stadium during the Parade of Nations, who danced for hours without rest.

PyeongChang Olympic authorities were effusive in their praise for the thousands of volunteers, in part due to media reports shortly before the games began that hundreds of volunteers had quit their posts over alleged intolerable working conditions. The translation of the word 'volunteer' (chawonbongsa) as "passion crews" in English on posters and banners around the country hints at the expectations of volunteer labor in South Korea, as the neologism "passion pay" has come to be used to refer to unpaid--and often exhausting and demeaning--work that may one day lead to more rewarding and stable employment.

Utilizing media analysis, participant-observation at the Olympics (and later Paralympics), and interviews, Dr. Tilland asks: How are Korean young people associated with the Olympics (workers, volunteers) tasked with representing and advancing a globalized South Korea? And how do the young Olympic volunteers and workers make sense of South Korea’s position in the Asia region, particularly given that cooperation between South and North Korea amidst geopolitical tensions became a prominent theme of the PyeongChang Olympics? She suggests that the young South Korean Olympic volunteers are held to certain national expectations of globalized behavior and etiquette in their roles as ambassadors, but they selectively, and sometimes strategically, subvert these expectations based on their experiences as global citizens with the international experience beyond their country's borders that characterizes their generation.

Bonnie Tilland is an Assistant Professor in the East Asia International College at Yonsei University, Wonju campus. She received her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Washington. Her book project examines women’s care labor in the family and its resonances with televised family ideals. 


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