The first lesson William Heathershaw learned in Beijing as an Olympic volunteer was how to use chopsticks.
Beijing started to train the first group of 292 overseas volunteers in media operations for the Olympics with a week-long course on Chinese culture at Tsinghua University here on Monday.
Twenty-four students, including Heathshaw, from the University of Iowa in the United States will learn about China's history, culture, environment, economy, media and ethnic minorities and tour the city. Tibet is on the list of their lecture topics.
"This program will help the volunteers know more about China before they get to work for the Olympics," said Xu Mengyao, who worked with media operations at the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).
As a warm-up, the volunteers held discussions with Tsinghua students on Monday and had lunch at the school canteen, where many found it hard to use chopsticks.
A business management major who studied Chinese for two years, Heathershaw said he had always enjoyed the Olympics and was expecting to experience cultural shocks in Beijing and see a totally different world.
"I'm so glad I'm here," said Heathershaw. "When we landed, I was like 'Wow, I'm in Beijing.'"
His classmate, Daniel Libman, said they applied for the volunteer work out of a passion for writing and sports and expectations of a good travel and work experience.
"It's such a rare opportunity, as the Olympics is held just once in four years," said volunteer Elizabeth Tuttle, who told Xinhua it was the first time that the University of Iowa had sent students as Olympic volunteers.
Andrew Bassman, also a volunteer, was surprised by the air quality of Beijing. "The weather here is good. Many talked about pollution in Beijing but the sky here is so clear."
One has to see a country to really know it, and the Olympics is a good opportunity for people from all around the world to get together, improve understanding and make friends, he said.
The Iowa volunteers were picked after three rounds of tests by BOCOG, including story writing and role playing, said Sterling Bacher, study abroad coordinator of the university.
After taking the Chinese culture course, the students will join the other 268 overseas Olympic volunteers in the training and serve for media operation during the Games.
The volunteers will work at the Main Press Center or the International Broadcast Center or with particular sports such as tennis and wrestling, said Executive Director Li Jing of the Zijing Volunteer Organization at Tsinghua, who worked with the training program.
Those working at the venues will watch games, make records and collect quotes from athletes for use by reporters, said Tuttle.
The BOCOG started consulting with 10 overseas colleges starting in 2006 about recruiting media volunteers. Seven teams were sent for interviews at universities in countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia in February and March, said Xu.