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Alumna Follows Dreams to Olympic Games

Caroline Lee BS’13 with two costumed Olympic characters

Caroline Lee BS’13 had lots of photo opportunities at this year's Olympics.

When the 2018 Winter Olympics opened on Feb. 9, spectators and star athletes from around the globe descended on Pyeongchang, South Korea. The pinnacle of sporting ambition for many participants, this year’s games also represented the culmination of a lifelong dream for one Comet.

Caroline Lee BS’13, who graduated from UT Dallas with a major in psychology and a minor in gender studies, spent two months volunteering at the Olympics and Paralympic Games. During her time in South Korea, Lee worked for the games’ accreditation department, making ID badges for employees.

“I had the honor of helping people from six continents and all walks of life — former athletes, heads of government, bus drivers, university researchers, waitresses, journalists,” Lee said. “Talking to so many different types of people and learning about their lives was a great experience.”

Potential Olympic volunteers face stiff competition and overwhelming odds to win the coveted assignment. After an unsuccessful attempt at volunteering with the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Lee knew that she would be one of tens of thousands of people applying for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Facing a second nine-month application process, Lee was rewarded with a ticket to Pyeongchang.

“For the longest time I couldn’t believe it,” Lee said. “Not even when I was in South Korea declaring chicken jerky to airport customs or on the bus to volunteer training. It wasn’t until I put on my silver and red volunteer uniform that this dream finally became real.”

ice dancers

U.S. ice dancers Alex and Mai Shibutani compete at the Olympics.

While volunteering, Lee witnessed dreams come true for athletes in the team figure skating, skeleton and big air snowboarding competitions.

“The big moments are truly special, like seeing a skeleton gold medalist run into the audience to hug her family after securing the win,” she said.

But she is quick to point out that the Olympics offer much more than spectacle. Her experience provided a unique slice-of-life insight into the normalcy that undergirds the extraordinary efforts required to run the massive event.

“What surprised me the most about volunteering at the Olympics is how normal living the dream is,” she said. “Yes, going to the Olympic Games can be grand, epic and magical, like making the ID badge for the prime minister of Liechtenstein or being hand-fed barbeque by a nun. But it also feels surprisingly everyday and down-to-earth — waddling to the cafeteria on icy sidewalks while other volunteers build snowmen, waking up at 4 a.m. to catch the volunteer bus and coming home with my feet pleasantly sore from a full, fun day. The little moments are equally as grand.”

Lee credits her time at UT Dallas with preparing her for a diplomatic role as an ambassador to people from diverse cultures.

Lee and the white tiger and black bear Olympic mascots

Lee had her picture taken with a couple of the Olympic mascots.

“UT Dallas taught me how to be part of a large community and how to connect with anyone and everyone, which made volunteering at the games an easy adjustment,” she said.

The encouragement Lee received on campus also influenced her decision to actively pursue her goals in life.

“If I never went to UT Dallas, I don’t know if I would ever have applied to be a volunteer,” she said.

Since graduating, Lee has worked as a teacher and is currently focused on her global volunteer work, teaching English and creating videos. She encourages others to learn from her experience at the games and realize any goal is within reach.

“We often dress our dreams up to be untouchable, but they are much more approachable and tangible than we think they are.”

— Daniel Steele

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