Volunteer reflects on 'amazing' experience

8 Aug 2014

“NEXT STOP MARACANAAA!” The sing-song, animated voice of one of Rio de Janeiro’s best-known sports reporters, Luiz Penido, boomed over the tannoy system of Metro Linha 2. Jostled by the crowd inside the heaving carriage, Kiana Meyer quickly checked to see if she had all her belongings before looking up at her two Mexican colleagues. Together, they left the train and continued on their way to work – which just so happened to be block 536 of Rio’s legendary Estadio do Maracana.

From 12 June until 13 July, the 23-year-old business studies student from Cologne worked as a Fan Service Volunteer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, possibly one of the most enviable jobs on the planet. Exactly 152,101 people had applied for the position and Kiana was one of 15,000 lucky ones who had been invited to come to Brazil. Donned in a blue uniform, her many tasks included pointing fans in the right direction if they had trouble finding their seats, searching for a drinks stand or looking for the lavatory.

Describing herself as “a walking info point”, Kiana was happy to help out and always answered supporters’ queries with a smile. On several occasions, she was even asked to pose for photographs with fans. “You felt like a star,” she told FIFA.com. “People often wanted to take pictures with me and everybody asked loads of questions.”

Colleagues became friends During her time in Brazil, Kiana mostly spoke Portuguese, English and German, her mother tongue. She even managed to answer the odd question in Spanish and, if the language barrier was too great, hands and feet came into play, she told us with a grin.

Born to a German father and a Brazilian mother, football’s showpiece event in South America really was something special for Kiana. Outgoing, friendly and multicultural – she embodied the all the attributes required by a good volunteer. During the tournament, Kiana and her two Mexican colleagues, Oscar and Emiliano, lived with her grandmother in Leblon, one of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. In total, 7.42 per cent of World Cup volunteers came from outside Brazil, with Kiana one of 352 from Germany.

Almost half of all the volunteers were between 18 and 25 – in Kiana’s age bracket. On the rare occasions when there were no matches, she usually met up with colleagues for barbecues and other activities, and quickly became good friends with her co-workers. They all rooted for their colleagues’ countries of origin, celebrated with each other when a goal was scored and consoled one another when their nation was knocked out of the tournament. “I was really sad when Mexico were eliminated,” she said. “I felt the pain of my two Mexican friends.”

Feelings of joy and sorrow went hand in hand on one day in particular. Wearing a Germany shirt and clutching a Brazil flag, Kiana left the house to watch the hosts play her country of birth in the semi-final. She had painted a Germany flag onto Emiliano’s face, while her grandmother had painted Brazil’s colours onto Oscar’s. Together, the three volunteers headed to the FIFA FanFest™ at the Copacabana, where they had watched many of the matches that hadn’t taken place at Rio’s iconic stadium.

A part of it all It was a night of starkly contrasting emotions for Kiana. “When the third goal went in, I didn’t know whether to be happy or start crying,” she admitted. “Brazil fans next to me were breaking down in tears and some even went home during the first half. Then, after the final whistle, it started bucketing down with rain. Rio was crying – it was all very dramatic!”

The shock of the 7-1 defeat affected Kiana, her grandmother, the Brazilian volunteers and indeed the entire nation very deeply. A few days later, however, the mood changed and the whole country was happily anticipating the final. Brazil’s admiration for the German national team was huge and, no matter where Kiana went, if she told people about her German roots it was always followed by the same response: “Ohhh Alemanha! You have to beat Argentina!”

Kiana dressed very carefully on the day of the final, making sure the Germany shirt she had put on underneath her uniform was hidden from view. “I was nervous the whole day,” she said. “The tension and the rivalry inside the stadium were palpable, but it was still a harmonious atmosphere.” Kiana said she watched Mario Gotze’s decisive 113th-minute goal as if in slow motion. Moments later, an ear-splitting noise erupted all around her. Those in white hugged each other, danced and shouted in jubilation, while the Argentina fans held their heads in their hands in frustration and sank inconsolably back into their seats. For her part, Kiana stood motionless for a few seconds. “I was briefly paralysed,” she explained. “But then Emiliano came over and gave me a bit of a shake.”

At full-time, the German-Brazilian volunteer was congratulated by colleagues on die Nationalmannschaft’s fourth World Cup triumph. “Many of them came over and gave me a hug,” she grinned.

Always welcome – anywhere! Whenever Kiana watches reports on the World Cup back at her student home in Cologne, her mind is instantly flooded with thousands of happy memories. “It’s as if you wrote part of the tournament’s history,” she said. “I’m sad that it’s over. It was the most intense month of my life, but I felt part of the World Cup. There were so many impressions that are impossible to process so soon afterwards.”

Kiana has already been in touch with her former co-workers via Facebook, fondly reminiscing about the unforgettable experiences they shared in Brazil. “We’re already talking about where and when we’ll meet up next,” she said. “If I want to travel anywhere, I won’t have any trouble finding a place to stay! We’ve become one huge family.”

These volunteers left their own indelible mark on the World Cup, but the tournament also gave them something to remember for the rest of their lives. Kiana and her new friends embraced the tournament’s motto “All in one Rhythm” and followed those sentiments to the letter.

To Kiana, and all the volunteers at Brazil 2014, the football world says OBRIGADO!