There Are Some Olympians In Town
They are my favorite type of olympians (besides the ice dancers, synchronized swimmers, and bobsledders, of course). They are Writing Olympians. We’re making a big deal out of it here in Azerbaijan. The Writing Olympics is a Peace Corps-run program that occurs each year in concert with other countries in the Caucasus, and this year we added Moldova. We’re Trans-Caucasus Plus!
The Writing Olympics was started in 2003 by a PCV in Georgia, giving students an opportunity to flash their English-writing capabilities. In 2005, Azerbaijan got in on the act, and then in 2007 added a university-level group of competitors to the mix. In 2008, students submitted over 600 essays across the country. Students from the 6th Form (about age 12, like that 5th or 6th grade level) to the 11th Form, and university-level students can participate. Each student is given a choice of three questions to answer, different questions based on which Form they are in at school, and they have one hour with which to compose a response. This is Nerd Olympics, on a national level.
After they submit all their essays, they are packaged into triple-sealed envelopes, stamped with red ‘Confidential’ stamps, and sent to the Baku Peace Corps office via Pony Express. From there, we PCVs get together and judge all the essays and their writers. It will be a day filled with poor grammar and even worse handwriting. But at the end of it there will be regional finalists whose essays will be sent on to local ex-pats for final judgment to declare national winners. And there’s one more level of judging that goes on: the International Round. All of the regional winners will be sent on to Tbilisi to compete against finalists from Georgia, Armenia, and, new as of this year, Moldova. Then in June, we’ll be celebrating all of our winners with a ceremony in Baku, presenting books and certificates and other goodies to all of the winners.
I’m writing here about it because I slipped into being the guy who’s the point-person for the whole show here in Azerbaijan. I’m certain that it’s a lot easier to coordinate this from my comfy Writing Olympics headquarters (read: an internet club) than it is to prepare the students and run a local competition. We’ve got two competitions being held in Lənkəran, one at school #7 and another at the University.
In any case, today is the first day of the competition. Peace Corps Volunteers across Azerbaijan are conducting their local Writing Olympics competitions and students are engaged in an epic stare-down between their paper, pens, and their own eyes. These will continue for the next few days and then the essays will be on their way to Baku. Next weekend, there will be an epic amount of judgment being handed down from the Peace Corps office.