4 takeaways from my Olympic experience

(Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Marston)

Who else is going through Olympics withdrawals?

The Winter Olympics wrapped up in PyeongChang, South Korea a little bit ago and I’m still in a daze. That’s because my spouse and I were able to attend it, something that I never would have imagined happening in my lifetime. And I have the military to thank for it.

Besides all the obstacles that comes with military life, it also comes with amazing opportunities. My spouse and I weren’t excited when orders to South Korea came our way – for the second time – but, this go around I decided to tag along. We wanted to take advantage by traveling around Asia and most importantly, we knew the Olympics would be passing through during our time in the country.

I was sold and we packed up our life and cat to live in South Korea. Best. Decision. Ever.

As military spouses, we learn a lot about ourselves as we endure the ups and downs of our military lifestyle. As I experienced the Olympics firsthand, I also learned a lot not only about the Olympics as a whole, but the host nation.

I thought sharing the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my experience could offer insight and hopefully encourage others to go, especially as the 2020 Summer Olympics will be in Tokyo! I’m talking to you, those getting orders to Japan!

1. You realize the pride of the host nation.

The opening and closing ceremonies give global viewers a sneak peek. However, being in the mix, you are truly exposed to all things Olympics and Korea! Airports and train stations were decked with Soohorang and Bandabi (the tiger and bear mascots, respectively) statues. Also, during the Olympics, they had costume characters taking pictures with spectators along with cultural experiences for guests.

Aside from the entertainment side, South Korea made it really easy to get around. For example, they offered free parking, free shuttle service between Olympic areas, and free tolls. That showed me how prepared South Korea was and committed to enhancing the experience for everyone.

In addition, I couldn’t watch NBC, so I watched the games from the perspective of South Koreans and it was amazing. I’ve only watched the Olympics from the US. All coverage focuses on Team USA, why not, right? Although I couldn’t understand anything the Korean commentators were saying, I was able to watch the games differently when I was at home in the states.

2. It’s not as difficult to attend as you would think.

As I mentioned, South Korea made it really easy to get around. Besides transportation, getting tickets are relatively easy, especially when you are local. Prices ranged from more affordable like curling to big splurges like the opening ceremony. I was able to hop online and bought our tickets with our IP address confirming our location.

We were also a bit behind on booking our plans. When the New Year rolled around and I still didn’t purchase our tickets, I was a little worried on our prospects, particularly with accommodations. Luckily, there were still plenty of places left that were only a handful of miles away. I learned that they had price gouging rules going on too, which helped with insane prices. Also, there were plenty of empty seats in the games we saw. Bullet dodged.

3.  The athletes are as amazing in person as on TV.

This lesson seems like an obvious one. But, in person, it’s such a different experience. The first game we watched was the biathlon, which took place at night. Let me continue painting the picture. We are also in the mountains in the height of winter with the temperature at 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a negative wind chill. There is no sun to warm you.

The athletes are sprint skiing in the cold and then stopping to try and shoot a target. Oh, and the wind was pretty rough that night too. Yikes. They all made it and I was even more impressed with the skill it takes for the sport.

My amazement didn’t stop with the biathletes. With all the games we watched, I was in awe. Being able to be in the same environment added to my expectations.

4. The world is truly a small place.

I love this lesson because it rings true for other things as well. Although my spouse and I were clearly outnumbered by Koreans, we were also with so many other different nationalities! When we walked to the Biathlon stadium, we trailed behind a troupe of Germans supporting their Olympian. We were also surrounded by Canadians, French, Russians, Swedish, Italian, and many more!

Even the other Americans we ran into, they were from other locations and we had our country in common. Olympic Park was very Team Korea and PyeongChang oriented, but I still couldn’t help the Disney Epcot vibe I was feeling when we were watching around the different complexes.

By Rachel Marston