Volunteering is great! Not only are you helping others but you are also helping yourself. Through volunteering you can gain new skills and knowledge, meet new and interesting people, and you get to change your routine.
Being a social work major, I greatly enjoy helping others. I volunteered a lot in the U.S., but after coming to teach in Korea I found it was a lot more challenging to find opportunities. So, today I would like to share my experiences of volunteering in Korea, and hopefully give you some ideas about where you can help.
In December of 2013, one month after I began teaching in Korea, I discovered Bean Seoul. I wanted to make friends with a similar mindset as myself so I searched everywhere online for groups that helped people. After searching online for a while I stumbled upon this organization. They run a couple of events around Seoul and Incheon. They have two types of events: teaching and playing at an orphanage, and tandem bike riding with adults with vision problems. They have the events two or three times a month and they are recurring.
Orphanage visits are throughout the entire year and there are currently two orphanages that they visit. One is within the Incheon area, and the other is in Oryu, a little closer to Seoul. The orphanages are clean, and the kids are well taken care of. When volunteers go, they are expected to try to make conversation with the kids, and work on a simple worksheet. The simple interaction is important because many of the kids are unable to go to academies, leaving them with less opportunities to spend time with foreigners and native English speakers. After teaching for a little less than an hour, you get to play with the kids. This includes playing piano, dodgeball, soccer, or just more talking. The events are really fun, and I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed their experience with this event.
One of my favorite visits was this year during Christmas. This was my first time being able to attend their Christmas celebration and I loved it a lot. Bean Seoul made a list of all of the kids with a matching list of what they wanted for Christmas. During this event, I had signed up to give two students gifts and since the orphans don't have parents and family members to buy them gifts, I wanted to make sure that I bought them the best ones that I could. One student wanted a CD album that had photos of her favorite K-pop members, and the other one wanted a spring/fall jacket. I spent hours looking for just the right gifts, but seeing the surprise in their faces, and the satisfaction they had gotten what they wanted, it made everything worth it, even if my wallet wasn’t as happy.
During the warmer months, Bean Seoul has a tandem bike ride event with adults who suffer from vision problems. It is especially beautiful in Spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming. The bike ride is usually next to one of the many rivers in Korea, so there are lots of trees, and beauty everywhere. Learning how to drive the tandem bike is a little bit of a challenge at first, but once you get riding together it is really fun. The volunteers bike for around 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) with the adult you are helping in the back seat. The adults might not know English, but even still bike riding doesn’t call for a lot of conversation. The time that I went on this trip, the volunteers had Korean food with the adults. It was a nice time to enjoy Korean culture, and to get to know someone new.
The animal shelters can be a little sad to go to, but they definitely need help. I found a couple of shelters through Facebook that were in need of some volunteers because the animals need to be socialized, and taken care of. Usually the animal shelters need a lot of help and donations as the shelters that I have known are all funded privately. This is difficult for them because there are a lot of expenses. Aside from all of the normal expenses, the animals that have been rescued usually need to get veterinary treatment, and a lot of special care.
I went to a shelter just north-west of Seoul, in Ilsan. The shelter focused on helping dogs. Even though I didn’t get to do a lot, the dogs were really vying for attention. I enjoyed getting to pet and play with the dogs, but ultimately it helps them the most just getting to spend time with people. I went to the shelter three separate times, taking friends who were interested in the dogs, and I enjoyed it every time.
I hope you enjoyed my blog about a few volunteer opportunities you can partake in during your time in Korea. It is a rewarding experience and a great way to meet new people all while being able to help those in need.
Neil Frazer has been teaching with Chungdahm for a little over two years. He comes from a small town in Wisconsin, named Spooner and graduated from Olivet Nazarene University with a Bachelor's of Social Work. After traveling to Korea in college he quickly fell in love the culture, food, and quality of life that Korea has to offer and immediately knew he wanted to come back. He looks forward to sharing his experiences of living in Korea and working at the Pyeongchon branch, near Seoul.