Year 2 and 3 students from the Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media (DTVM) were among the volunteers at the SEA Games which has just concluded. Most took on roles as media personnel, in line with their training as writers, photographers, editors and social media content creators.
Shantel Neo and Vera Sng are Year 3 students who are very busy with their school work as final year students but decided not to miss out on this opportunity of a lifetime. At the suggestion of their lecturer, they signed up as SEA Games volunteers, got through the interviews and never looked back. They say it was simply exhilarating. Here’s why.
1) Why did you sign up as a volunteer?
Shantel: I was a big sports person when I was younger; Swimming, Badminton, I loved the adrenaline! But somehow as ‘O' levels came by I stopped altogether and never found the time to go back into it. Joining the SEA Games in some way just felt like diving back into the sports I missed and it was too tempting an offer to give up.
Vera: I’ve never covered such a huge event before and I thought it would be a great experience. Furthermore, SEA Games is a biannual event that was last held in Singapore in 1983, 22 years ago! It’s quite a nice coincidence that it was held in Singapore just when I am in DTVM, it’s as if we were fated to join it, so why now? The question is always: Why not?
Shantel (front row, left) and her fellow volunteers
2) What was the training like?
Shantel: Training was surprisingly manageable, having a training session once every few weeks lasting about three to four hours. We started back in January and continued with it until the Games began, and they covered different aspects of content producing every time. We were trained by a wide range of people, from journalists to social media content producers to photographers and it was very interesting to see how they catered it specifically towards the new media.
Vera: The training sessions were few and far between, but each session was pretty long. It was really nice to see so many people volunteer for SEA Games for so many different reasons, though. Our sessions started in January all the way to a couple of weeks before SEA Games. An external vendor, SUNSET+VINE trained us with the general reporting skills and Starcom MediaVest Group trained those selected for live tweeting.
3) What were your expectations before you committed to be a volunteer?
Shantel: I was really excited about being able to experience content producing on the go and I imagined how fast paced everything would be during the games. And I actually thought it would be really intimidating at first before everything!
Vera: I didn’t expect to do anything impactful at first. I mean, how could they trust their social media to a bunch of strangers after only a handful of training sessions? I was expecting to do work that they will then incorporate into an article they wrote themselves and only being credited as “A Volunteer”, like many other events. I never expected our names to be up there on the website. But no! Our articles went through one line of vetting and went up on the SEA Games Social Wall, our names and pictures all unchanged.
The venue where Shantel filed her stories
4) What were your duties?
Shantel: My duties as Content Producer was to produce blow-by-blow bite sized posts for the SEA Game's Social Wall while the matches and races were going on and by the end of the event, to find soft stories around us and write short articles! It ranged from the most interesting looking supporter with drums and costumes to cheeky articles about why you should come over to the OCBC Aquatics Centre. We asked questions that would have made some athletes and spectators raise their eyebrows since they weren’t the typical "How do you feel about the match" type of questions, but they were all fun and a little something to delve into their personal stories.
Vera: We posted updates and human angle stories which were then pushed to the SEA Games official Social Wall, where visitors could filter by discipline and country. Apart from match updates, we also wrote a bunch of fan pieces, personal athlete thoughts, and even about the volunteer body. Some of us were also selected to update the Twitter for them. I tweeted for the whole period that Netball was being played. I had to give real time score updates as well as background information on the players.
5) How would you describe your SEA Games experience?
Shantel: Frustratingly amazing! Well, on the amazing side, I got to cover water sports like Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming and Water Polo, which was something very close to my heart and it brought up some nostalgia covering them throughout the period. Also, the small little team we had down here at our location made the experience even better. When I first entered our small little Media Room, the walls were filled with information on each athlete in which sport, game rules, contact details, and even ‘little gossips' and notes on the athletes! That was so cool to see every day, and how we updated it all the time. And frustrating because of all the missed opportunities and restrictions as a digital media team instead of the normal traditional media.
Vera: A daze! It was so quick, one moment we were still in training sessions and the next, we were running around OCBC Arena posting articles. And the next, it was the Closing Ceremony and everything was over. It was really stressful as well! I think this is true especially for those in charge of Twitter. I had to put out timely, accurate information while I kept track of the match at the same, as well as try not to get into spectators’ way. My brain would always be “fried” at the end of the day.
6) What sort of challenges did you face?
Shantel: Even though we were labelled as media and we were in house media for SEA Games, we did not have access to Media Seating or Standings and were pushed to the back behind all the spectators. It made us feel really frustrated because we could not get good pictures for our blow-by-blow content and we felt like we aren't doing enough. Even though we understood the reasons, which was due to being in uniform, but it felt like we constantly had to fight for a place to get good shots for content. Also, having to rely on just one phone for everything was surprisingly nerve racking when you see your battery draining to zero before the event ended!
Vera: One challenge right from the start was figuring a way to work with the people scheduled in the same slot as me. Working together was a really important thing if we wanted to get the best stories out there. Everyone was as good as strangers in terms of work ethics and writing style. Another challenge was of course, talking to strangers at the strangest times. I had to interview people like an ex Netball Captain, to local celebrity Felicia Chin for my stories, to being interviewed by The New Paper myself! It was nerve-wrecking! But I think towards the end of SEA Games, approaching people became normal and we didn’t think much of it anymore.
7) How did you juggle your school work with your SEA Games responsibilities?
Shantel: It was all about priority. Sometimes we couldn’t get the best of both worlds and we just had to pick. When we had something big coming up for school like filming or project deadlines, I had to give up the training in order to focus on that first and catch up with SEA Games later, and vice versa when the days drew closer to the Games. We even had an overseas filming module called On-Location Production (from 9 to 12 June where we flew to Ipoh to film a documentary) right smack during the Games! It was interesting to see how many of us involved in both handled covering the Games and then flying to Ipoh the next day to film a documentary then coming back to the Games again.
Vera: I scheduled the days I was on duty such that they only fell on weekends or days where I had only one class in school. Although this meant 12 hours shifts consecutively, it freed up my school days for me to squeeze in group meetings and work. I made sure to separate days for school work and SEA Games duties because I felt that having both in a day would render me absolutely brain dead and unable to produce good work.
8) What surprised you most?
Shantel: The size of SEA Games itself. To see so many people put in so much effort collectively for this to work is beyond words. People from all ages and all backgrounds were coming together and volunteering to give back. From Security to Food, to Media Relations to Logistics, that was huge. And when you get the courage to say “Hi” to the next person eating lunch with you, you could see the joy and excitement in their eyes for being able to be a part of this, and that was really admirable to me.
Vera: How fun the stress was! That sounds quite odd, but while I was sitting on the edge of my seat, trying not to let my phone slip out of my sweaty palms and neck hurting from looking up and down and back again, I was having fun. After the first tweeting session, I was craving for more, and requested to take over the next few tweeting shifts from my friend, who preferred to write articles.
Vera’s photo of a jubilant Singapore Team
9) What rewards, tangible or otherwise, did you get by being a SEA Games volunteer?
Shantel: I think it was great for me to get over the fear of talking to and interviewing people. When you see the other volunteers in the same boat as you, we'll just have to muster up the courage before the opportunities get away, especially with the athletes! The worst people can say to you is "No" and they'll probably forget about you sooner or later if you fumble up. That was what we kept telling ourselves to keep pushing for stories hidden around us. And when some of our articles went up on news platforms like AsiaOne, it felt like we’d done justice to the stories we’d found.
Vera: The experience I gained is definitely the biggest reward. I joined SEA Games as a volunteer to gain experience and I must say that I wouldn’t have learnt any of this in normal lessons. Another reward is that despite the hair-pulling, finger-cramping time we went through to write the articles, seeing them up there and seeing people retweet my tweets was the best feeling in the world. Being recognised for the effort we put in. We also got a certificate and a bunch of goodies like a T-shirt, sunblock and Vitamin C.
10) What was the best part of it?
Shantel: Absolutely the people. The Digital and Photographers Team was a small one at the Aquatics and we were crammed into a tiny room while we did our work. We even had to sit on the floor! But to get to know everyone and laugh and complain together was what made SEA Games memorable for me. Hearing the stories from our Volunteer Photographers, watching the Games with everyone, making jokes about abs and stocking the media room with snacks amongst very expensive camera equipment were really some of the memories I'll keep from this. And I'm really glad and grateful to be part of this Aquatics family, we're small and it was cozy!
Vera: Definitely the people. At first, I didn’t bother getting to know the other volunteers because I thought SEA Games would just be a one-off thing and we wouldn’t remember each other after that, but boy was I wrong! Stressing out together, having much needed meals together, sitting at a table and writing articles instead of eating, it really brought us together. After a while, I realised that these people had invaded more of my heart than I thought they would, and I miss working with them now! The people also include the spectators. I never thought Singapore was so supportive of our athletes, and the crowd knocked the breath out of me. Parents brought their young children to watch matches, groups of friends bought tickets to watch matches instead of going to shop. The energy was amazing, and I think I’ve never heard Singaporeans so expressive before. It felt really nice, to be standing there among the cheers and screams, and seeing how much support our athletes have while they played.