Why it is worth becoming a volunteer for IChO 2023

Itzel from Mexico and Ivan from Russia both live in Zurich and have at least two things in common: They’ve participated in the International Science Olympiad and are now involved in organising the International Chemistry Olympiad IChO 2023 in Zurich, bringing together young people from 90 countries and regions.

Itzel and Ivan agree: being a volunteer is fun and helps you become part of an international science family. Picture: Monique Bolli

Itzel, Ivan, both of you participated in International Science Olympiads in high school. How did the Olympiad shape your career?

Ivan: I had a great time participating in two International Biology Olympiads in Taiwan and Singapore. Being part of this international community, meeting all these students from all over the world as well as the local guides – that was great. I am still in touch with many of them. My participation has certainly led me to my current job here at ETH Zurich. This is now the fourth International Olympiad that I’m helping toorganize. And certainly, participating in the Olympiads has strengthened my resolve to pursue an academic career.

Itzel: I’ve participated twice in the Mexican Chemistry Olympiad. In 2008 I qualified for the the IChO in Hungary as well as the Ibero-American Chemistry Olympiad (OIAQ) in Costa Rica. I also volunteered as a guide when the OIAQ was held in Mexico and mentored the Mexican teams thereafter. During all these experiences I’ve made a lot of friends from countries far and near. I am still in contact with my Hungarian guide from back then (laughs). Also, the IChO definitively helped to shape my career. Back then, I knew I was good at science but I did not know exactly what to study. However, some of the people I got to know during the Olympiad played a role in my decision to move from my hometown in Veracruz to Mexico City for my studies in chemistry.

"I expect it to be a very fun time. You get to know the young people, their ideas for the future…" Itzel



Itzel, you registered as a Team Guide for the IChO 2023. What are your expectations?

Itzel: I expect it to be a very fun time. You get to know the young people, their ideas for the future… We can also share our Olympiad experiences. Back in 2008, we had such a friendly guide. Volunteering now gives me the opportunity to give back a similarly nice experience.

I have lived in Switzerland for three years and I’m married to a Swiss. I feel like it’s my second home now and I really like this country. So, I hope I can also show the IChO participants what I like about Switzerland and where they could study in the future. I think the science in Switzerland is amazing. And not only the science but also the quality of life is great, with all the mountains, hiking and skiing. As a Mexican with no snow experience in the past, skiing has become my favourite hobby in winter now (laughs).

Ivan: For me, it’s also about giving back. I am very much into teaching and pedagogy. Many societies like Switzerland invest heaps into helping students with weaknesses or learning issues. But not all schools offer enough of a challenge for kids that are very interested and whose talents in Science go beyond what’s being taught at school. The Olympiads help close that gap and this gives me the motivation to support them.

What would you tell other potential volunteers? Why should they register?

Itzel: (laughs) I’ve already convinced my husband to join. You get to know a lot of different people from many different backgrounds. I told him it’s a bit like the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter with all these teams from many places.

Ivan: What I often tell people is that in those ten days you will also see many different places in Switzerland that you maybe never experienced before: research institutes, companies and of course several touristic highlights.

Be a Volunteer! Do you want to be part of IChO 2023 and participate in some of the interesting activities surrounding the event? Then join us and register your interest at https://www.icho2023.ch/volunteers.

You mentioned the many international contacts you’ve made. How did they influence your lives?

Ivan: I was very excited about the connections to people from around the globe that I was able make. It was the time when Facebook became a big thing so connecting was easy. With many of these friends we also organised meetings and trips together. Even the godfather of my daughter is an Olympiad alumnus (laughs). Wherever I go in this world, there are people I can reach out to thanks to this Olympiad network, even if the event was years ago. It feels like family still.

Itzel: I am still in contact with the girl I shared the room with in Hungary. She is from Brazil and later went to MIT in Boston. It was actually her who told me that I could also go abroad for my studies, something I didn’t even think about before. Many people at the Olympiads supported me in this decision.


And finally: What do you wish to the 350 young participants of IChO 2023?

Itzel: Believe in yourselves! It is already a great achievement that you made it to the selection of your country. If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to really enjoy this event. To not just try and do well in the exams but also to meet as many people as possible. Back then, I think I was too focused on winning a medal. I wish I had enjoyed this international event more.

Ivan: That also resonates with me. I hope the students will really use this chance and connect with each other and stay in touch. One of our main themes of the IChO 2023 is “Togetherness”. And this is what remains after such an event. As a community, we can achieve so much more together than what we can achieve alone.

"You will see many places in Switzerland that you maybe never experienced before: research institutes, companies and of course several touristic highlights." Ivan

About Itzel and Ivan

Itzel Condado-Morales: Originally from Mexico, studied chemistry at UNAM in Mexico City, and received a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University in the UK. After that, she did a Postdoc at University Hospital of Zurich and at D-CHAB of ETH Zurich. Since January, Itzel works as a scientist at Numab, a pharma company in Zurich, developing antibodies against cancer.

Ivan Istomin: Originally from Russia, studied biophysics, received a PhD in Biotechnology and Bioengineering from EPFL and is now working at ETH Zurich to organise the International Chemistry Olympiad IChO 2023. He is responsible - among other tasks - for the 200 volunteers that are needed for this international event.

International Chemistry Olympiad IChO 2023: The International Chemistry Olympiad will be hosted in Switzerland for the first time. Between July 16 and 25, 2023, around 350 young talents from 90 countries and regions will meet in Zurich. They will prove their skills on paper and in the laboratory, mingle with people from around the globe, and get to know Switzerland as their host country. In addition to ETH Zurich and D-CHAB, the organisers also include the Swiss Chemistry Olympiad, the Swiss Science Olympiad and the Swiss Chemical Society.

Author: Interview by Marco Gerber, Head of the Organising Committee of IChO 2023. The interview was shortened and edited by the editorial team.

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