Traditionally, three languages are used at the Olympic Games. And one Utahn who has found himself at a few events in Beijing can understand them all.
Kenneth Brewer, a Timpview High School graduate and Harvard College undergrad, is part of an intense language training program hosted by Harvard. Chinese is the sixth language Brewer speaks or reads fluently and something he "just wanted to pick up."
"Chinese is not a Romance language," he said. "I was having a hard enough time keeping English, Spanish and French apart."
The Chinese writing style also enticed Brewer, with its "ornate expression."
The Olympic Games in Beijing came as a bonus to the Harvard students, who are often stuck in classes most of the day. Brewer said having them so close has given him a chance to better understand the Chinese culture and the politics of hosting such a big event.
"A lot of Americans think that the Chinese people are just going around being oppressed by the government here, that it's just a big revolt waiting to happen," 18-year-old Brewer said. "It's not like that. They are very much satisfied with the direction of the current government and making a lot of human rights progress."
His favorite moments in China have included personal interaction with the people, eating native foods and playing games and communicating with the nationals. Being in his third year of Mandarin Chinese diminishes nearly all language barriers, given that China espouses dozens of varying dialects.
"The Olympics has been a nice chance for China to come out and show the world what it is all about," Brewer said. "I've enjoyed watching it all happen, but the experience is hard to put into words."
The official languages of the International Olympic Committee are French and English. During Olympic events, proceedings are also conducted in the language of the host country.
Brewer's got the English down. German was a second language taught in his home while he was growing up, and since junior high he's picked up Latin, French and Spanish and is currently concentrating on Chinese while he also pores over various science texts. The languages are a "hobby" that come in addition to his regular academic studies at Harvard, where he's hoping to earn an M.D./Ph.D and become a doctor.
"The place where I can make the most difference is using science and research," he said.
Brewer's father, Bruce, who is currently stationed with the Air Force in Kyrgyzstan, said his son has always done things to make him proud, throughout his schooling and still.
"I can see that his language abilities will assist him well in his future aspirations as a medical researcher as he interacts with international peers worldwide," Bruce Brewer said, adding that he is jealous his son has been able to attend both a Winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City, and now the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
China has been one of many stops along the way for Brewer, as he's also lived in Germany and Austria, Costa Rica and France and various cities in the United States. He spent only a year and a half in high school and finished all the courses he could before he started concurrent enrollment with Brigham Young University.
"I always fit in better with university students and was more confident among the older people on campus," he said, adding that he spent a lot of time there while his mother worked at BYU.
"BYU has always been the only reasonable choice for smart kids in Utah," Brewer said, but he chose to look into other options as he had earned several opportunities for scholarship money with a perfect ACT score and near-perfect grades. "There's a whole range of experiences you can't find in Utah and time for a lot of growth when I get that far away from home."
The American experience, Brewer said, is much different than living among the history and language you're studying.
"There is so much historical background here a couple thousand years' worth," he said. Brewer has always been interested in Asian religions and philosophies, which is his minor at Harvard. It's not his first time around Olympians either Brewer was one of four students selected to represent the United States last summer in the Chemistry Olympiad, where his team was awarded a silver medal. Even though it was academic competition, he compares it to that of the current Olympic Games, as another of his "quite unforgettable" experiences.
And after all the educational and cultural experiences he's had, including the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Brewer still believes that people make all the difference in the world."I've learned that at the core, humanity is still all the same, we all have the same basic needs," he said. "National boundaries are arbitrary."
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