International students throughout the world face as many challenges as they do new experiences. As difficult as it may get at times, there is always another international student or a local friend who is willing to give a hand. In much the same way as we require help sometimes, there is always going to be someone who can benefit from our assistance. Volunteering in Korea may seem a little daunting at first because of the language and cultural barrier. The truth is that getting involved with the local community is not as hard as it seems!
By Axel Lemus
Keeping warm during the bitter Korean winter is on everyone’s mind during this time of the year. Unfortunately, there are still people, typically senior citizens, who have a hard time finding warmth during the cold season. Yeontan Bongsa is a community service activity that addresses this issue.
Yeontan is the Korean word for coal briquettes while bongsa means community service activity. While participating in yeontan bongsa, volunteers help carry coal briquettes to the homes of people in need. The compact size of the coal briquettes in Korea make them easy to stack and carry multiple at a time.
My first experience participating in yeontan bongsa was in early December through an event hosted by the JBCIA. I helped carry coal briquettes to three different houses near Jeonju’s city hall alongside Korean and international students and other locals.
After completing the activity, I felt a sense of unity amongst the volunteers. Despite our differences, we accomplished our set goal of helping others in need. Yeontan bongsa is the perfect activity for this time of the year for any international student who wants to get involved with the local community but feels weary about the language barrier.
How to get involved
Many cities throughout Korea have their own “coal briquette banks” which gather the coal and manage the distribution days. Jeonju’s own coal briquette bank can be reached by going to their website, jblovebank.com (in Korean). Supporters can either donate money for materials or sign up to participate by calling 063-226-9022. The activity can be done in the morning from 9:30 to noon, or in the afternoon from 2 to 5 PM. The most important thing to remember is to not be afraid to get a little bit dirty!
There are other volunteer activities readily available to international residents. Each city usually has an online community of foreigners who have their own volunteer groups and activities. One such group is Neighbourly, Neighborly, 이웃 사람답게 in Jeonju. The group works with orphans by paying visits to orphanages and playing with kids, raising money for their Christmas presents, and more activities. The group can be contacted through their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/events/1611543532199954. Similar volunteer groups in other cities can be found easily by asking throughout the local foreign community.
Another option to find volunteering opportunities in Korea is by using online portals such as http://www.1365.go.kr. This option requires knowledge of the Korean language but is very comprehensive and offers users a way to easily find voluntary opportunities and keep track of their community service hours. Users can even print out a certificate verifying their community service hours and search for activities by field, city, date, and more fields. Finding a Korean friend or someone fluent in Korean to volunteer with is recommended for this option.
International students or other foreign residents should not shy away from volunteering. Such opportunities allow them to immerse themselves in the culture in a new way, practice speaking Korean, help others in need, and ultimately learn more about themselves. In a country as homogenous as Korea, giving back to the local community is also a means of conducting international exchange and changing any misconceptions people may have about foreigners.
One person may not be able to change the world on their own, but the combined efforts of many individuals can. We can make the world a kinder place through acts of selflessness or in this case, with one coal briquette at a time.