Volunteer Work in Korea





12/19/18. 21:49. P6

/Volunteer Work in Korea/.

/Category: Leadership/

/Guide Question: Is taking initiative culturally appropriate where you are?/

Back in the United States, I was a working student throughout my college life and so I never really had the opportunity to participate in a lot of extracurricular activities. I’ve always wanted to get involved and here in Korea, I’ve finally had the wonderful experience of participating in volunteer work during my first semester. In fact, there were so many volunteer opportunities available, I feel regretful that I do not have the time for them all. Among some that I had to pass up on were teaching English to children and cleaning up Han river. Hopefully next semester my school schedule will be more conducive to outside activities. I found myself really enjoying the experience and being able to help others.

The first volunteer experience I had was at an animal shelter. I heard that many different schools also volunteer at the shelter we went to because we only had a fixed set of hours to work. The owner said most of the dogs and cats they rescue were abused. My team member mentioned that some animals might need to be put down after a certain period because the shelter doesn’t have the resources to take care of a large amount of animals. It was very sad but I’m glad these animals can live their remaining lives in a safe environment where they feel wanted. We cleaned and mopped a classroom that was used for their presentations and perhaps grooming training due to the clumps of animal hair on the floor. We washed food bowls and dishes and the litter bins of the cats. We collected and folded the laundry hanging on the rooftop. And finally, after all that hard work, we got to do the fun part of walking the dogs! This photo below is with our dog ‘Dubu’ (Tofu)! He was a very strong dog, I felt like I was the one being walked!

My other volunteer work was distributing coal briquettes to the elderly’s houses belonging to a lower income bracket who do not have the regular underfloor heating. Korean winter can get unpleasantly cold and the coal briquettes were too heavy for the elderly to carry. I was very surprised at how many groups of volunteers were there along with our little group. Here are some videos to give you an idea on the process:

Yonsei Volunteer Group! (IOY club)
Coal briquettes ready to be delivered!


We would have to go back and forth to carry each briquette. Each house we were assigned to needed 200 of these. They aren’t as light as they look. I was working out my arms that day.


Some other volunteer groups


No more clean gloves!


This kind grandpa served us some coffee after we finished our work. So sweet!

I feel as if there is a lot of initiative in Korea when it comes to doing community work and a big part of it is in their collective culture. It’s a good way to meet some people as well. In our school clubs, (including the volunteer clubs) spots are limited so in this kind of setting, initiative is very much welcomed and encouraged.

In an academic setting, I have not noticed any stark difference. I think it just depends on the students because in one class, the only person who were asking a lot of questions to the professor were international students. In another class, Korean students were just as active in participation.

I have yet to experience what are the dynamics on initiative within a professional setting. I am keeping an eye on internship opportunities so hopefully I will be able to share with you my experiences. From what I learned in business class and Korean language class compounded with my understanding with the culture, respect is very important and there is a social hierarchy as opposed to the more egalitarian West, so I would assume that yes, initiative in participating what the boss and the team wants to achieve is a no-brainer but initiative in presenting ideas would probably take a different route than what is expected in America. For instance, perhaps presenting ideas to someone who is higher in the social hierarchy must be in a more polite and indirect way as opposed to just saying it directly… I’ll confirm once I get an opportunity later!