For my giving back activity I volunteered with Seoul Bean. Bean is actually a worldwide volunteer organization. They focus on making friendships and bringing young people together. The Seoul branch focuses on visiting orphanages. Many of the activities are centered on playing with the children and teaching them English.
I joined the hiking activity to Suraksan (Surak Mountain). We all met at a subway station, which was on the opposite of Seoul from where I lived. Once we all joined we started on the hike. Quickly the hike became a rock-climbing venture. The trail they had picked was incredibly steep. Despite the difficulty of the trail the boys were running up the rocks at 100 mph. We hiked for about 30 minutes and decided it was too difficult to continue with the kids.
The back up plan was to go to a near by stream park. All over Seoul there are streams with various activities to do. The park we ended up at had basketball courts, exercise machines, and a water fountain installation. Playing with the kids was really fun. One boy told me in Korean that the park had strawberries, so we went to find them. With my limited Korean at the time I could only ask him if we can eat the strawberries and where they were located. In the end, I never saw any strawberries but did learn a lot about how Korean kids play.
I think kids worldwide all play the “same way.” In Korea, I definitely see that each gender prefers to play with the same gender the older they get. Kids are also much more interested in people who don’t look like them. There was one other volunteer that was a Belgium guy, blonde hair, blue eyes, and incredibly tall. All the boys clung onto him (literally). For me, having an Asian complexion, it was difficult to get kids to play with me when I couldn’t speak very much Korean. A few of them knew English phrases and were excited to use them on me but that was it.
In the States, the culture of being and orphan and orphanages are for the majority only in literature and media. Orphanages in the US don’t exist anymore. Instead there are foster families. Trying to imagine what it is like to be an orphan is difficult for me because I didn’t grow up knowing any orphans. They may have been foster kids here and there during my primary school years. Even more interesting is that these kids that I met in Seoul, are orphans in one of the biggest influential cities in the world. I wonder if it works in their advantage or makes it more difficult for them. There are just so many factors that go into what makes someone “successful” in Seoul. A Korean family may adopt them, some may get into families overseas, and then there’s the group that grow up an orphan.
My giving back activity made me ponder the identity of an orphan child not just in Seoul but worldwide. I’ve never actually met an orphan so there’s never been someone to answer my questions firsthand.