Ra Seung-yun stood on the podium on July 6 as a spokesperson of PyeongChang bid committee at the 123rd IOC General Assembly in Durban, South Africa.
“I was in a panic and the inside of my mouth suddenly went dry,” Rah said. “I stumbled over a few words for about 30 seconds. But I tried to focus on the purpose of the presentation itself, and not on myself being nervous.”
But she went on speaking and did around a 16-minute presentation. A few hours later, Korea enjoyed the honor of winning the opportunity to hold the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. It was a moment that Korea becoming the first country in Asia, outside Japan, to hold the Winter Olympic Games.
“Thankfully, I heard many people have watched my presentation and given me special attention,” Rah said. “But I expect the national attention on me to die down quickly since I do not deserve it as an individual who was merely part of a greatly designed team.”
Her experience as a spokesperson for Korea started early. Rah spent her childhood and adolescence in various countries including Mexico, England and Canada for 12 years since her father was a diplomat.
“It was the late ’70s when I was living abroad, and I remember usually being frustrated and feeling sad that no one knew Korea,” Rah said. “People would ask whether I was from the North or South. I had to be a ‘mini-diplomat’ introducing Korea.”
Rah came back to Korea at the end of her junior year in high school and entered Ewha as a French Language and Literature major. Rah said looking back on it now she thinks graduating from Ewha was good for her since she was able to be in a community of smart and competitive young women who “gave her sort of a nudge.”
“I think my life would have turned out differently if I had not graduated from Ewha, which gave me pride and solidarity,” Rah said. “I especially appreciate my life at Ewha since a lot of people I meet along my career path are also Ewha graduates.”
Rah used be a member of Century, a co-ed English conversation and public speaking club, which pulled her into public speaking.
“When I was in high school, I got a C for public speaking,” Rah said. “But in Century, I learned how to enjoy public speaking. I once won the public speaking contest held within our club. That experience surely gave me confidence and it was then when I found passion for public speaking.”
After graduating from Ewha, Rah worked at the Bank of Korea for a year and moved to Arirang TV, an international English-language broadcasting station, as an anchor and reporter when it launched in 1996.
Rah participated in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup as a part of the media team, and also the bid committees of the 2012 Yeosu World Expo. Rah said working for the Yeosu World Expo bid committee led her to become an official spokesperson of the PyeongChang bid committee.
“One of the ambassadors remembered me making a presentation for the Yeosu World Expo and contacted me,” Rah said. “I actually learned from this experience that once you start building a career, you have to be always mindful that whomever you meet or even those with whom your contact is fleeting can have tremendous impact on your future.”
Rah recalls the presentation team as a great one that included renowned figures such as figure skater Kim Yu-na and President Lee Myung-bak. The team was eager to convince the audience that PyeongChang should hold the Winter Olympic Games.
“I think Korea won this time because we fully prepared for the last 10 years,” Rah said. “But mostly, it was because we wanted it so much. Also our team members did so well. Following what we did in practices surely helped a lot, and I felt everyone was feeding on each other’s energy.”
Korea continued PyeongChang IOC bid for three consecutive years, following 2009 for the Winter Games in PyeongChang with “persistence and patience.” Rah remembers the people of PyeongChang from children to grandmothers giving hearty welcomes when the IOC field inspectors were visiting.
“When Count Jacques Rogge announced ‘PyeongChang’ on the podium, we cheered for our victory,” Rah said. “I really believe our daily practices for the presentation and the challenges we faced finally paid off.”
For her future plans, Rah plans to continue to run her company Oratio, which provides classes on English speaking, translation and writing for business purposes.
The Pyeongchang bid committee is currently in the process of changing into the PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee. Her job within the new committee is still undecided.
“If you are able to talk about your certain field or profession and your passion comes across, then your presentation becomes convincing and English skills become secondary,” Rah said.