In her sophomore year, Anna Mao from Xinya College has made her way from Manchester to Beijing, diving deep into the immensity of sapience at the school library and exploring China’s development in the northwest part of the country.
Ahead of the new year, she embraced her new identity as a volunteer in external communication of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, fulfilling her childhood dream. Anna shares her story about her connection with the Olympics, as well as with China.
For many years, I felt like a “visitor” in China. It took time and effort to immerse myself in Chinese life and culture, and this year I became an Olympic "volunteer." My journey has gone quite well and the choices I made along the way have made all the difference.
I sat in front of the television set, watching, listening to, and feeling all the energy coming from that clunky black box. My elementary school would start in the fall, but for now, it was summer, a glorious summer, and the summer of 2008 is not one I'll easily forget.
Back in August of 2008, the whole world was celebrating the Beijing Summer Olympics. I had watched for the preparations for the Games on the news from all the way across the continent in Manchester, England, and when I traveled to China for the summer holiday, I clutched the Fuwa (the five mascots of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games) extra tight at my grandparents’ house as I screamed for Ma Lin’s victory in table tennis. Back then, it was a matter of who had the best performance. By placing my bet on Ma and the Chinese team, audiences like me were guaranteed satisfaction.
I stood breathlessly, panting with my head bent over my knees, by the entrance to the Olympic Green. “What? The tickets are sold out? So I can’t even get in?” I furiously bought souvenirs to convince myself I’d been a part of it.
I watched the live events of the day from a beer garden near the London 2012 venue. It was a sight to see, people from all different countries mingling in the small lawn area to discuss the competition going on less than a mile away. I wished I could go in and witness history being made. Moreover, I thought how wonderful it would be to work behind the scenes, to be part of the invisible thread that tied all these people together.
I reclined beneath a fathomless canopy of stars. For miles around, nothing but soil and vegetation could be seen from the shelter of the tree-planting site in Shaanxi, China. My phone had no service, but I still heard the shouts when someone said that a student from our own school had snagged the first Olympic gold.
It’s possible to travel the world but not see anything at all; it’s possible, too, to view the world from home. My first home inside the Tsinghua campus was the library. Before the mosquito nets went up around my bed, before knickknacks and papers began spilling out over my desk, I found comfort in the rings of books at the Humanities Library. They were a discordant yet serendipitous array of everything. The Library felt like a microcosm of the university, a great melting pot of culture where people from across time and space were placed next to each other.
In the year of 2020, I made a few choices that would define my first year of university life in China. The first was to join the Global Communication Office family, where I dove into my and others’ Tsinghua stories and shared them for people around the world to read.
The second was to apply as a volunteer in external communication for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. I made the decision without a second thought—to me, this was an unmissable chance to witness first-hand how China interacts with the world.
The third definitive choice I made in my freshman year was to take part in a social investigation trip with other students from Xinya College to Jingbian, Shaanxi. There, I met the woman who, along with her family, had turned more than 7,300 hectares of the barren desert into a thriving forest.
For her more than four decades of devotion to planting 27 million trees in the desert, she was named one of China’s “Ten Female Heroes” by the Chinese government and is referred to as “Model Worker Niu” by the villagers in the land she once sowed. Later, we visited five families who had been lifted from poverty by the unrelenting effort and genuine care of the local governments. I came to see that these people, who dedicated their lives to service in the most poverty-ridden and desolate landscapes in the country, represented the heart of China. They took us in not as passing visitors, but as students who would lead the country to a brighter future.
I hunched over in front of my monitor, reading and rereading the protocol for my job. Everything had to be perfect for my second—no, third—chance at diving into the global celebration of sportsmanship known as the Olympics, this time not as a spectator or as a tourist, but as a volunteer.
Fourteen years ago, I would never have imagined that Beijing would host another Olympic Games, nor would I have known the importance of such an event to my future.
As a dignitary assistant for international guests at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and a TsinghuaRen, I represent China to the world. I bear this responsibility after having traveled into the heart of rural China, after having witnessed the coalescence and coexistence of cultures within my own campus. I wear this badge proudly as a token of the companionship I have found here.
Now, I am no longer a visitor. Rather, I serve as a guide for those who come here—to show them not just the landscape of China but its warmth, to welcome them not as tourists but as a family as we come together to work toward our shared future.