Jamal Alivey,  
Research Assistant, Program in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology

I was born in Azerbajian, a young independent country of 9.5 million people located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.  It is said that Azerbaijan's name is derived from Persian and means "the land of fire." This is a reference to the surface oil deposits that naturally burns on a hillside near the capital city of Baku.  Together, with Georgia and Armenia, this area is known as the South Caucasus and is rich in history, culture, cuisines and natural resources. 

The booming city of Baku is home to an interesting historical and cultural site, Villa Petrolea or Nobel House.   It belongs to the family of Alfred Noble, founder of the Nobel Prize. He bequeathed most of his wealth for the establishment of this prize. Unknown to most, Alfred Noble and his family built their fortune from the oil in Azerbaijan. They also established one of the most well-known oil companies and built the first oil tanker in the world.

Villa Petrolea after reconstruction, Summer of 2007

Alfred Noble, the man that gave the world the Nobel Prize

I majored in Biological Studies at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. Besides providing rigorous biology science training, NTU allowed me the flexibility to satisfy my curiosity in other disciplines such as entrepreneurship, economics and politics. By a stroke of luck, I was selected to spend the 2010 spring semester on exchange at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.    I thoroughly enjoyed myself; meeting new friends, skiing, going on road trips, attending spring outdoor barbeques and experiencing the natural wonders of fjords, northern lights and white nights. 

Friends and Adventures in Norway

Since I was young, meeting new people, trying new things and travelling have been my ‘guiding light’ to enrich myself and broaden my horizons. Diversity and respect, one of principal values of Duke-NUS, is thus close to my heart. By creating an excellent college environment for people from every corner of the globe to work and learn, Duke-NUS has contributed significantly to 21st century medical research healthcare delivery in Singapore. My mentors and colleagues never hesitated to teach and share their experimental techniques and satisfy my curiosity to learn new things. Coincidentally, Duke-NUS also shares similar universal values of respect and excellence with the Olympic Games.  

Jamal and some his lab-mates 

Jamal’s alter ego, Dictator at Duke-NUS’ Dinner and Dance 2013.

I volunteered for the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics Games (YOG) in Singapore and the 2012 Winter YOG in Innsbruck, Austria. My role was that of an assistant to the National Olympic Federations from Azerbaijan and Turkey and a translator for Russian-speaking youth athletes.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  

Jamal (extreme right) with his fellow volunteers and the youth athlete YOG in Innsbruck, Austria. 

In my role as a volunteer, I ensured both the personal well-being and the daily needs of athletes and their coaches were met.  I coordinated their travelling to practice and competition venues, places of interests and entertainment. I am was also their ardent supporter- cheering them to the point where I lost my voice. I shared both their joys and tears.  After every eight-hour shift, I received spectator tickets to watch the competitions live.  On one occasion, I attended an ice-hockey match between America and Russia.  The experience was an eye-opener. 

The warm camaraderie shared by international volunteers and athletes heighten during the YOG.  The atmosphere was amazingly electrifying and energizing. I often found myself covered in goose bumps as I accompanied the respective National Federations to the opening ceremonies.  I have learned a lot about various competitive sports and had met outstanding athletes such as Lindsey Vonn and Sergey Bubka.  I am proud to be an Olympic Games maker and hope to be part 2015 Baku European Olympic Games. 

Catching up with fellow YOG volunteers in Singapore