My 2009 Symposium Volunteer Experience

by Jim Showalter
Lexington, KY, USA

In 2009, I was a volunteer for the International Tai Chi Chuan Symposium. My role began in the planning stages of the Symposium. I have to admit I was a little reluctant to volunteer. I could see the Symposium was becoming a larger  event than first anticipated. Having a full-time job, a family, and multiple Tai Chi classes to teach, I just didn’t feel there were enough hours in the day. I reluctantly volunteered anyway.

My volunteer work began in the planning stage of the Symposium. I was part of a team that compiled a database of people in the Wellness and Tai Chi worlds to invite. I also volunteered to help the group handling Registration & Housing with some of their advance registrations, and was assigned to help the Brazilian International Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Association Center members with their online registrations, payments, and dormitory reservations. Angela Soci, co-director of the Sao Paulo Center, was very helpful in making this job go smoothly. I was very grateful for her help. I enjoyed getting acquainted with several of our Brazilian Tai Chi brothers and sisters via email before the Symposium.

The day before the Symposium, I arrived in Nashville for an administrators/managers meeting and assisted the managers, lending a hand wherever I could. Once the Symposium started, my main assignment was to help people in Group A get to and from the workshops with the Grandmasters. I assisted them in getting to the workshop area and after arriving, got them organized and ready for the workshop. The good part about this volunteer job was that I also got to participate in the workshops!  But at first I felt a little uncomfortable in this role. Everyone I knew was in Group B. However, throughout the week I enjoyed meeting and exchanging cultural and Tai Chi information with Group A members and made many new friends and acquaintances from around the United States and the world.  Some were International Yang Family Tai Chi Association members; some were not. It was an enriching experience for me. When moments could be found between events, I got to meet and compare notes with teachers from Australia, Brazil, China, Europe and more. We were all learning, and we were all having a good time. We were, in my mind, all Tai Chi brothers and sisters.

I also really enjoyed meeting the people I had been emailing back and forth with for the previous several weeks. The directors of all three Brazilian centers took the time to warmly introduce themselves to me as they arrived. I also have some fun memories of time spent with attendees from other countries. One evening, Bob Ashmore and I took new arrivals from Canada and Australia to a little bar & grill restaurant we had just discovered. Knowing we shouldn’t, we told them to ask about the day’s special burger. It had over 40 ingredients and even if you tried to stop him, the restaurant owner insisted on reciting all 40 of them! Also, I got to know a Brazilian attendee who joined Bob and me at local eateries and we talked about similarities and differences in American and Brazilian culture. One day he asked if there was a bakery nearby because the next day was his teacher’s birthday. We pointed him to a cupcake bakery a few blocks away, and learned that cupcakes were not common in Brazil.

Sometimes in my role of volunteer I was spontaneously asked to help with other tasks or assist others with challenges they were having. Whenever challenges arose, it was good to know that I was part of a team and my experience was that everyone pitched in to help each other.

Yes, I was a reluctant Symposium volunteer at first. But in the end, I’m very glad that I did choose to volunteer. If you are thinking about volunteering, I have only one piece of advice: Do it!

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