Incredible Opportunity Lately / Inexplicable Overdose of Love / or just a week of pure happiness
//skip this if the “IOL” abbreviation is well familiar to you
What’s IOL? One of the International Science Olympiads — International Linguistics Olympiad.
Don’t ask why it’s IOL, not ILO — I really have no idea.
“Hmm, linguistics… So, how many languages do you need to know?”
Basically, one — your native. Linguistics as a science is not about learning to speak foreign languages, rather about the language structure. As for linguistics Olympiad problems: they require little to no special knowledge. The experience in different languages might slightly help in solving, but the only thing you really need is logical thinking — and in this context linguistics resembles math, not philology. Here is the official website with the information about past contests, sample problems etc. For Ukrainians: ling.org.ua.
Now, what’s IOL not formally but from the point of view of a person engaged in it? Shortly, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. The contest itself, places you visit and, most importantly, people you meet (many of whom go to the IOL more than once and form a special community) — everything combined makes this event in some sense magical. I guess it’s similar with all other ISOs — it just can’t be another way when so many smart, truly interesting people gather in one place. However, I believe, there are some unique things about the IOL specifically (say, memes!).
I’ve been a contestant twice and couldn’t be anymore since I graduated high school; fortunately, this year I had an opportunity to join the IOL as a volunteer — and here’s a more detailed diary about this week.
2017, Dublin, Ireland
And now it begins! It’s about 8 a.m., and we ( = eight Ukrainian contestants and five “adults”) meet in the Boryspil airport.
We’re going to be in Dublin only at 9 p.m., but the layover we have Paris is so long for a reason: we plan to take advantage of it, go out and explore the city. We manage to do that and spend about three hours in the heart of gorgeous Paris — and I actually intend to write a separate post about it, kind of a guide (shortest possible?).
After another flight segment we arrive in Dublin, where we meet Polish, who arrived around the same time, and local volunteers. We then go to the DCU (Dublin City University) campus, check in and go to sleep — it was a long day, at least due to the 2-hour time difference.
First official day of the IOL. I wake up early to see Mateja and to get instructions about my duties as a volunteer. I explore the campus and — the nicest part — meet old IOL friends at breakfast and during the registration. There’s some free time after that, and a few of us (Ukrainians) leave campus to take a walk in the neighborhood. We’re not in the city center, yet we find Drumcondra (the area where we go) pretty nice; it’s quiet, the houses are one-storey with those lovely bright doors.
We return for the opening ceremony. It’s touching, as always. Speeches, Irish dancers, presentation of the countries (when the facts about a country related to Ireland were told, and people were supposed to recognize their country); finally, the traditional presentation by Ivan Derzhanski with funny instructions for the next day’s individual contest.
The rest of the day was spent chatting and playing games with people; the contestants went to bed early to be in a good shape.
The most important day for the contestants and the best opportunity for the volunteers to see Dublin and have fun — after the competition starts, we are free until the evening. I want to go to the city center and Claire, who lives in Dublin and is also a volunteer, suggests showing me around (which was really nice and helpful); Vlad (an observer who’s free as well) joins us. We catch the bus and then observe from the upper floor the streets we’re passing.
We get off on the O’Connell Street and are now in the center of Dublin. The next places we go to are Trinity College and Dublin Castle where we also go inside; we then walk down the beautiful streets in Temple Bar and get some food in one of the bars.
I mention that I’d also like to go somewhere to the sea, and Claire says that the best place for it is Howth, the peninsula in the north-east of Dublin, so we go there by train. It is very picturesque there indeed. We go up the hill and walk down the Howth Cliff Path.
Pleasantly tired, we return to the campus, but the day is not over yet. First, we have a lecture about the machine learning — I knew most of what was told, yet the lecturer was good and it wasn’t boring. It’s time for karaoke after, and this event is really joyful, with so friendly and warm atmosphere; the songs are mostly well-known hits and we end up singing them all together (my personal favorite were Don’t Stop Me Now, and Bohemian Rhapsody).
It’s the excursion day, and its beginning is cold and rainy. However, the weather doesn’t spoil the optimistic mood. The teams take seats in the excursion buses; my little task is basically to make sure that the excursion goes smoothly, and nobody gets lost. In our bus we have the teams from Ukraine (heh), Czech Republic, Sweden, Kazakhstan and USA. And we are ready to go.
Our driver — who’s also a guide — is really friendly, and tells interesting stories on the way. Irish music is playing, along with one guy’s attempts to play Seven Nation Army on the souvenir flute; the landscape behind the window is mostly green hills and fields; I’m chatting with Honza and a little — with the Kazakh. On the way we have several stops to explore the sights:
Monasterboice, ancient ruins of the churches and the tower, with the graves and high stone crosses around;
Battle of the Boyne place and Oldbridge house — we were told the history of this battle, which happened there in the XVII century between the forces of King James II of England and those of Dutch Prince William of Orange;
Loughcrew, the site interesting for the passage tombs — there’s a legend that the stones were brought there by a witch (also, the views from the hilltop are beautiful);
Trim castle — well, an old Norman castle; we walked around the area and climbed the walls, feeling that medieval spirit.
Hill of Tara — archeological complex with ancient monuments. Team Ukraine, inspired by some kids, tried rolling from the hill there, and there’s this hilarious untranslatable wordplay about it: команда Украины скатилась («скатиться», “to roll” literally in Russian, is also a slang word for… “to degrade”?). It’s even shown in the video (see slightly below).
The excursion is eventful and, I think, lets us gain an impression about Ireland. We return; next in the schedule is the lecture about how technology can help minority languages. After that I talk with Anna and later join Sweds and Manx in the pub — in Nubar on campus first, but soon we move to another one, Slipper’s. It’s pretty noisy and very atmospheric there. I get to taste different sorts of beer (have never been a great fan of beer as a drink, but the Irish beer — yeah, it was good… #AlcoholEdu).
Now it’s time for the team contest. We’re volunteering during it — well, staying in the building and helping with the small stuff. The problem, as far as I can judge by a brief look on it, seems to be quite fun: it’s about matching emoji with their descriptions in Indonesian. Another fun thing is seeing the teams’ emotions in the solution process and hearing different languages. The contest ends, and the contestants are now discussing the problem, sending a lot of emoji in the group chat, and making memes on it (and ugh, it’s upsetting to be unable to get them!).
Then there’s a short lecture about the Irish language (Gaeilge), after which I go to the city center again — this time together with Ukrainians. We miss the Jeopardy final (which, I heard, was cool this year) and come back to DCU in the evening. I spend the rest of the day with Ada, Tamila, Vlad and Honza — first in Slipper’s, and then in the lounge playing Munchkin (which is more linguistically complicated to Honza since my cards are in Russian — I wish I had an English version! — but he copes really well). I manage to win unexpectedly due to the “divine intervention” — those who have played Munchkin will understand.
The IOL is almost over and it makes feel a little sad, but this day promises a lot. I decide not to go to the solution discussion: I still have a vague intention to try solving the problems — ideally, to give myself 6 hours and imagine that I’m a contestant (and to feel ashamed when it turns out that I wouldn’t perform very well? Haven’t done that yet, but possibly…) In the afternoon we have the closing ceremony — an exciting moment for everyone. Naturally, I don’t feel as anxious as I did as a contestant, but I keep fingers crossed for the friends. The results are being announced, and I feel happy about each contestant going on stage, even if I don’t know them well. I also feel sorry about those who expected to have a higher result — but hey, I believe that everyone participating was in some way special, and everyone did a good job. In the remaining part of the ceremony appreciation is expressed to the jury, team leaders, and (yours truly!) volunteers. Then we watch the presentation about Czech Republic, where the IOL 2018 will be held, and I’m sure that in this moment all of us desperately want to come next year.
Later we have another great event — traditional Irish céilí dances. Not that we are perfect dancers, but we do have a lot of fun. We also get to listen to the folk music played by a group of really talented local teens.
It is the last night, people gather in Nubar, I have so many interesting conversations and say farewell to friends. (I already miss you all so much!) Everything is incredibly warm and nice. This day ends late at night for me.
Too sad to leave. At 10 a.m. the bus is waiting for us to take us to the airport. The responsibility for the contestants is now mine since Danylo, Tamila and Ada are staying in Ireland for a few more days; it’s fine — they are all pretty grown up (well, I’m only a year older than some of them). This time we have a layover in Amsterdam, but aren’t lucky enough to see it like Paris: long slow queues for the passport control make us decide to stay in the airport waiting for our flight to Kyiv. Finally, we are in Kyiv around midnight. Parents meet the children, and we all go home. The air is extremely hot: I feel like my brain is melting and it makes me wish to go back to Dublin with its +15 and the rains; but it’s nice to be home anyway.
Here’s a great video from organizers with some of the highlights of the week; I think it shows the IOL spirit really well (and there are quite a lot of shots with the Ukrainians):
Yielding to the nostalgia, I also recall the previous IOLs, where I was a contestant. I have a slight regret that I didn’t write the stories about those trips right after returning from them (but there are those in Ukrainian by Ada and Tamila on ling.org.ua).
2015, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria
My first IOL. Good old-school team (Ada, Nastia, Anton…), parties, славянская «шляпа», Bulgarian dances, crossing the mountain river and singing songs, beautiful Bulgaria (mountains! I love mountains), post-IOL excursion — Shipka, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo — exploration of an interesting abandoned house in the latter… I regret not communicating to more people then, but I tried my best and it was great to meet many of the contestants.
2016, Mysore, India
“Seems it can’t be done but it can” (as a motto of India for me). Hours of “truth or dare” and charades, being taught to ride a bicycle, green campus that resembled jungles, Indian food, chipmunks, monkeys, and elephants, everything-so-Indian-and-exotic, winning a medal (yeah, could’ve done better, but I was happy about it anyway), days with our team in Delhi and Agra. India’s the land of contrasts indeed. Absolutely crazy traffic (tuk-tuks, motorcycles, everyone signaling, cows on the roads), dirt and beggars — but at the same time incredible culture.
This linguistics-related experience contributed a lot to my life, became one of the things that determined my present. I’ve had eventful trips, challenges, tons of laughter, met so many wonderful people. And, again, MIT. I’m not talking about my modest bronze medal now: I’m glad I have it, yet there are a lot of people rejected with way more significant olympiad achievements. I mean all the inspiration and ultimate impact on my whole way of thinking; everything that made me this version of myself — who was able to make them think there’s a match between me and MIT (and I want to believe there is).
If you are reading this and are still eligible to participate in linguistic contests — I encourage you to try. As for me, I really hope to have time next summer and, in one role or another, to join the IOL 2018 in Prague!