The Sochi Olympics Up Close

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 12:06 pm

Wondering what you can do with a Russian degree? Daniel Wolfe ’99 knows many ways to use one. After graduation, Wolfe thrived in a handful of diverse careers — translating for a music company in Russia, working for a video game company in corporate America, and teaching music to children with learning disabilities. He owned one business making soundtracks and another interpreting and consulting for older Russian children adopted into American families.

Wolfe acknowledges he took a non-traditional path to a career that now has led him to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. It also was a journey set up by the benefits of his Grinnell College education.

“My education at Grinnell gave me a mental flexibility that allowed me to thrive in different careers,” he says. “The Russian department gave me a really solid foundation not only in Russian, but also in being open and able to understand others.”

Like any good foreign language major, Wolfe studied abroad while at Grinnell. He planned to go to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the first semester of his senior year. While he was there, he fell in love with the city, the country, and a woman named Anastassia. So, his one semester stretched into a year.

How Sochi Comes Into the Story

Daniel Wolfe '99 under Sochi Olympic rings

After graduation, Wolfe returned to Russia, and to Anastassia, who is from Sochi.

Since 1999, Wolfe has been visiting and staying in Sochi. He wanted to write a book about this old resort town on the Black Sea, so he started doing informal research.

In 2007, when the International Olympic Committee announced that Sochi would host the 2014 Winter Games, Wolfe knew the event would be worth paying attention to, even as an amateur observer.

Studying Mega-Events

Wolfe did informal field research in Sochi for a decade, knowing the whole time that he wanted to go to graduate school. When he finally made the decision to go, he discovered that he could study the Olympics formally through a field known as mega-events.

He’s writing his master’s thesis about the personal, political, and environmental impacts of the massive construction that transformed Sochi for the 2014 Olympics. His paper “Life On The Ground: A Comparative Analysis of Two Villages in Sochi During Olympic Transformation” was published in Euxeinos, a journal of the Center for Governance and Culture in Europe, in December 2013.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wolfe will conduct more fieldwork: participant-observation and ethnographic interviews in Sochi with locals and tourists. He’s interested in how Russia perceives the West and how the West perceives Russia.

Wolfe plans to pursue doctoral work at a European university where he can do funded field research in Russia.

What He Really Wants To Do

Daniel Wolfe '99 and his kids on a beach

His ultimate goal is to become a professor in the United States at a liberal arts college.  His dream job would involve working in the same department as his mentors, Todd Armstrong and Anatoly Vishevsky, professors of Russian at Grinnell College.

Wolfe says perhaps he should have gone straight to graduate school. But he enjoyed his serendipitous and circuitous route, “I’m glad I’ve taken the time. I’m doing something I’m really interested in that’s topical and cool.”