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April 24, 2010

World Expo 2010 blog - week 1



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WEEK 1

A week has passed since my arrival in Shanghai. This is my first day off from the non-stop training, protocol meetings and seminars. The jet lag has worn off and I finally have an opportunity to post what I hope will be the first of a weekly series of blogs highlighting my experiences as a student ambassador at the USA pavilion inside the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. For those of you who are not familiar with this event (there was surprisingly little U.S. media attention surrounding the Expo by the time of my departure) I will start off by giving a brief explanation of what the World Expo is all about, and why this particular one is so important.

This World Expo, previously known as the World’s Fair, is a six month long event showcasing the culture, customs, history, and technology from countries all over the globe. In addition to the 192 temporary national pavilions on the Expo grounds, there is an abundance of corporate pavilions and a handful of permanent structures which house museums, entertainment venues, and eateries. Possibly more significant is the fact that, with an expected seventy million visitors, this is set to be, not only the biggest World Expo in the history of the event, but also one of the largest human gatherings in the history of planet earth. Riding in on the momentum of the 2008 Olympics, China and the city of Shanghai is prepped to stage yet another event befitting of the power-house image of the world’s most populated country.

As for my role in this gigantic undertaking, I am one of the approximately eighty college students and recent graduates from universities throughout the U.S. who were selected to carry out a number of key roles at the U.S.A. Pavilion over the next three months (a new batch of eighty students will be arriving in late July to take over our duties). Most of the student ambassadors have significant China experience, either as former study-abroad participants, interns, or as independent travelers. Chinese language abilities were a prerequisite and this will probably serve as the most significant test of those skills to date, as they will be needed to interact with the Pavilion’s visitors, most of whom are expected to be Chinese citizens. We will guide them through the Pavilion’s three exhibition halls (read: movie theaters) and be available to answer any questions they may have.

These past few days were a test run for the pavilion staff as we hosted the “soft-opening”, or 试运营. There was an air of general excitement among the Pavilion staff and the tens of thousands of visitors who have passed through the turnstiles over the past few days. Although there have already been some major challenges, it appears that the U.S.A. Pavilion, or USAP as it has been dubbed by our leadership, is set to be one of the most popular attractions at the Expo. In fact, the USAP is expected to be second only to the China Pavilion in terms of overall visitors. I got the opportunity to welcome quite a few groups of several hundred visitors at a time in the first area of the USAP which everyone here calls the “Overture”. With nothing but a microphone between myself and the massive groups of visitors who poured into the Overture area (approximately 300-500 at a time), I had the opportunity to welcome them, explain what the Pavilion and its exhibits are all about, and try to relieve their anxieties stemming from having to wait for several hours in cue just to see the Overture hall displaying a three-minute video which features the barely intelligible mandarin greetings of a few prominent American athletes and politicians. I tried my best to quell the disappointment and frustration of many visitors (many of which had already waited for hours just to be let through the Expo’s front gates) by cracking a few jokes, mustering up my most academic idioms or 成语, and trying to convince them to come back and see the rest of the pavilion after its official opening on May 1st. My attempts to relieve the tension in the air seemed to be fairly effective and I was relieved to get the crowds smiling, laughing, and having a good time. The experience was both exhilarating and physically draining.

This evening I attended a welcome event at the U.S. consulate and had the opportunity to meet with foreign-service officers, consulate staff, and the Shanghai Consul General Beatrice Camp (see photo below). It was a fun event, replete with American-style barbeque, and was the first of many great networking opportunities to come.

Overall, my experience thus far has been a positive one. It has been a real pleasure to work alongside the other student ambassadors, USAP organizers and, most of all, to get a chance to represent the U.S.A. and the University of Michigan and engage in a dialogue with so many inquisitive and (predominantly) warm and welcoming Chinese visitors to the pavilion. This will definitely be an event for the record books and a summer to remember. Throughout my stay here I will try and cover more focused aspects of the Expo in my blogs, so please check back from time to time for more information and anecdotes. If you are planning on attending the Expo, or just have any questions or comments about the event, please feel free to contact me at calebjford@gmail.com. Also, I would like to send out a special word of thanks to Jen Zhu and the CCS staff and faculty at U of M for cheering me on and encouraging me to write this blog. Thank you all for your support and go blue!


Guest blogger Caleb Ford (right) and Beatrice Camp, Consul General, United States Consulate in Shanghai.

Posted by zzhu at April 24, 2010 06:25 PM