Three University of Arizona students are headed to Sochi, Russia, to work as interns at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Joseph Shaw and Desiree Piazza, both seniors majoring in Russian and Slavic studies, and Heather Smyser, who has a master's degree in Russian and Slavic studies from the UA and is currently pursuing her doctorate in second language acquisition and teaching, were chosen for internships with NBCUniversal after demonstrating outstanding proficiency in Russian language and culture.
Shaw and Piazza will work in guest services at the games, and Smyser will act as a production assistant.
"I think it's going to be really exciting. I like an atmosphere with a lot of energy and the Olympics is super high energy. And working for NBC is a pretty cool opportunity," Shaw said.
The students were offered the for-credit internship opportunity after NBCUniversal contacted Teresa Polowy, head of the UA Department of Russian and Slavic Studies in the College of Humanities, in March. The media and entertainment company was conducting a national search for Russian-speaking college students to work at the games and identified the UA as having strong programs in Russian language and culture.
Polowy identified about a dozen prospective interns. The three finalists were chosen after completing an interview, in Russian, with an NBCUniversal representative via Skype.
Polowy said the internships will provide the students with invaluable experience.
"I hope they gain a sense of the world in Russia," she said. "Russia is an extremely diverse country, and with everybody coming to Russia for the Olympics, it's going to be quite a cosmopolitan Russian affair. And professionally, it will be a tremendous thing to have on their resumes."
While the students don't yet know exactly what they'll be doing in Sochi, they will keep a journal about their experiences there in order to fulfill the internship requirement back home.
For Shaw, the two-week internship will mark his fourth trip to Russia.
An Air Force ROTC student, he fell in love with Russian culture – and the food – after completing a Department of Defense-funded summer Russian language program in Kazan. The experience inspired him to change his major from political science to Russian and Slavic studies.
"Studying Russian, I'm always looking for opportunities to go there and I'm extremely grateful and very excited," Shaw said.
And while he doesn't know if he'll have time to watch any of the events, he says he'd love to catch a glimpse of a Russia-USA hockey matchup.
Smyser, who will be making her first trip to Russia and plans to stay in the country for a month, said she's looking forward to experiencing the myriad cultures at the games.
"I'm fascinated by the multicultural, multilingual aspect of the Olympics," she said. "I'm also looking forward to meeting some of the athletes and talking to them. It's the Olympic Games – how can you not be excited?"
Piazza, who is double-majoring in Russian and Slavic studies and Arabic studies, studied abroad in Russia and taught English to elementary school students while she was there, but this will be her first time in Sochi.
"I am a huge sports fan," she said, "and I am thrilled, not only to attend, but to help contribute to this event's success while representing the University of Arizona."