Imagine celebrating your 21st birthday in South Korea.
Then take it one step further.
You’re celebrating your 21st birthday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics after volunteering at the Games.
That’s how Jonathan Sabatini, a 2015 Dallas High School graduate, will spend his 21st birthday. The Ithaca College sports management major will be an event services assistant at the Kwandong Hockey Center during the upcoming Olympic Games, which begin Feb. 8.
“It’ll be something I’ll never forget, honestly,” Sabatini said. “I get chills thinking about it. It’s one for going there, but it’s two for celebrating your birthday at the Olympics on a world stage. I’m excited, and it gives me the shivers inside.”
Sabatini’s path to the Olympics took almost a year in the making.
It started with one of the Ithaca junior’s professors, Wonyul Bae, who is originally from South Korea and who has connections with the Korean Olympic Committee.
After volunteering at the Super Bowl last February manning a fan experience station, Sabatini put himself in the position to apply for an opportunity to volunteer at the Olympics. The Dallas alum is one of 20 Ithaca students going to Pyeongchang.
The recruiting process for the Olympics started in October when Sabatini applied. After patiently waiting for two weeks, he finally learned whether or not he made the cut. Sabatini was accepted and received the chance to witness the Olympic hockey tournaments up close and personal.
He’ll have 10 shifts at the Kwandong Hockey Center throughout the Games.
“I was nervous because I was literally checking my resume and my application three times to make sure there wasn’t any mistakes or anything. Because if I had one mistake, I was out the window,” Sabatini said. “Once I sent it in, I felt better, but then when it said, ‘OK, the announcement will be that Monday at noon,’ I kept checking my computer saying, ‘OK, it’s noon. Nothing came through yet.’
“I was nervous, but then when I got the email saying I was going, the nerves went away and I was filled with excitement.”
Aside from volunteering at the Super Bowl last year, Sabatini assists in the Cornell University Athletic Department, pitching in at hockey games. He also had a four-week internship with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this past winter and an internship with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders this past summer.
Between volunteering at Cornell and interning with the Penguins and RailRiders, Sabatini has built a wealth of knowledge in gameday operations, fan experiences and sales.
“Whatever I see, whatever I do, I’m going to learn as best as I can. Because whatever knowledge I learn over there on a global stage will definitely help my job search and in my future careers,” Sabatini said. “So I’m just going to be open-minded and not take everything for granted, but take it with an open mind and be willing to get out of my comfort zone and help people. Even if I have to do it in a new language.
“I’m starting to learn Korean phrases.”
However, this isn’t just a business trip for Sabatini.
He’s leaving for South Korea on Jan. 26, more than a week before the Games begin. So he’ll have plenty of time to take in the scenes, try the local food and be a tourist.
“I’m just excited to see a different culture and a different way of life that we don’t have in the United States,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to the cuisine. I’ve done research on the cuisine, but it’s not going to really hit me until I try it.”
Sabatini finds himself in a familiar situation once again.
He’s playing another waiting game with his flight to South Korea almost three weeks away. But he’s OK if he has to wait a little longer because, he said, whatever is in store overseas is well worth the wait.
“I can’t wait to get on my flight and be a part of this,” Sabatini said. “It’s a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity, like how I went to the Super Bowl — I was fortunate to go. To be a part of an international sporting event with something just as big as the Olympics.
“I don’t want to say it’s a dream come true, but it really is a dream come true. And all of my hard work and internships have paid off.”