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KEVIN LU A student travels to China to help communicate the Olympic story and connect with his family’s heritage.

At age 13, Kevin Lu spent his family vacation in China visiting hospitals rather than tourist attractions due to a bad case of pneumonia. His only available remedy was a bottle of aspirin.

Now a University of Iowa biochemistry major intent on a medical career, Lu hopes to revisit hospitals as prospective job sites while covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Lu, along with 23 other UI students, is spending July and August as a volunteer with the Olympic News Service. The University of Iowa and Tsinghua University in Beijing signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007, making Iowa the first university outside China to provide student volunteers to assist with media coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics.

Lu isn’t a journalism student, but he hopes the experience helps him connect with his heritage.

His parents, Ping and Kay, grew up in China and moved to the United States in 1986. Lu’s father spends three months in Shanghai each year, and his mother visits frequently. But while his family retains close ties to China, Lu feels less of a personal connection.

“With my brother and me, it’s only natural to not be as close,” he says. “There is a geographical and generational divide that I hope this trip will bridge. I felt detached taking classes and reading, like an outside observer.”

Lu found out about the Olympics program last spring when he heard Judy Polumbaum, professor of journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and coordinator for the project, speak at a lunch event. He was immediately interested.

“It gives you a chance to be front and center,” Lu says. “This opportunity doesn’t come along more than once in a lifetime.”

To prepare for the trip, students practiced interviewing and questioning techniques, and held a conference with reporters who had previously covered the Olympics. “The best advice I got was ‘It’s your first Olympics—everyone is going to screw up,’” Lu says. “It’s like being a doctor and having your first patient die. It just depends on how you handle it—everyone is going to have someone die on them, and you just have to roll with it.”

During the Olympics, Lu—who’s also pursuing an international studies minor—hopes to see China at its best. Having experienced the nation’s medical scarcities firsthand, he’s interested in eventually practicing medicine in Asia.

“I want to see how much medicine has advanced in the last five years,” he says. “There’s all this talk of economic explosion that is centered on technology and trade. I want to see how these basic human needs have advanced as well.”

Lu also is exploring what area of medicine to pursue. “I have to decide what I want to do,” he said. “I’m like a little kid who doesn’t know what he can or can’t do yet.”

He’s eager to see what path China charts for itself. In 20 years, he hopes the country of his ancestors will emerge as a world leader in economics and environmental protection.

This year’s Olympics may help spark this movement, but Lu wants people around the world to remember the true reason for the games.

“No matter what one believes about China and its current issues, the Olympics aren’t about that,” Lu explains. “They’re a celebration of human achievement more than anything else.”

Story by Aly Dolan; Photo by Tim Schoon

Aug. 11, 2008