Cultural Differences Fade Fast For Student Volunteers At Korean Orphanage
Twenty AsiaLearn students quickly learned during a recent volunteer effort at an orphanage in Korea that fun and games have no cultural boundaries.
The North American study abroad participants volunteered their time one day in February to play rock-paper-scissors, red light-green light and other games with 40 children from Sungae Won (성애원), an orphanage in Busan, Korea.The group was joined by 15 Korean university student volunteers through the Federation of Volunteer Efforts.
When the students arrived at the orphanage, the children, ages 4-6, were still in school but soon came joyfully running into the recreational hall. The kids came to a halt, however, when they saw the group of 20 foreign faces. Initially, the children shied away from the strange faces and crept along the walls to the more familiar faces of the Korean university students who volunteer weekly at the orphanage.
It didn’t take long, however, for the rambunctious and curious youngsters to warm up to the AsiaLearn students, grabbing their hands and plopping down in their laps as they looked through books or waited patiently for turns playing games including rock-paper-scissors and red light-green light.
A local volunteer project is one component of the AsiaLearn Bridging Cultures Program, a multi-day, in-country orientation program that blends lecture, adventure, and culture together for an informative and fun introduction to the country in which students will be living and studying abroad.
“Volunteering at the orphanage was actually the best part (of the AsiaLearn Bridging Cultures Program),” said Sarah Thanongsinh, a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who is studying at Korea University. “The children were so cute and lots of fun.”
The AsiaLearn students played games with the children for about two hours and all were a bit worn out after trying to keep up with so many children.
Learning about volunteer opportunities and being exposed to one opportunity within their first few days of arriving in Korea really encouraged the students to locate more long-term volunteer opportunities in Seoul, where they will be studying for the next semester or academic year, said AsiaLearn Manager Kelli Modica.
“We want our students to give a little something back to the community that is kind enough to take them in and teach the students their ways during the students’ time abroad,” Modica said.
Prior to the children’s arrival for playtime with the volunteers, a social worker with the orphanage described the establishment’s background. She also shared some history of Busan, which historically has had large numbers of orphanages in the city because of the Korean War, a time when many families tried to escape the North to save their lives.
Through these journeys and war, many parents were killed, leaving their children orphaned. Some parents also left their children at the orphanages because they thought their children would be better cared for and hopefully escape the pain and suffering of living on the streets.
These days, Korean children become orphans for a variety of reasons, and it is estimated that South Korea currently has 17,000 children in public orphanages throughout the country and untold numbers at private institutions.
At Sungae Won, two of the AsiaLearn students came bearing gifts and handed them out to the kids before the group departed.
Zachary Monreal, a student at Texas Tech University studying abroad at Korea University, had been in Germany before arriving to South Korea and brought a variety of German chocolates, which the kids gobbled up just before dinner.
Holly Meyer, a student at University of Colorado – Colorado Springs studying abroad at Korea University, carried an extra suitcase with her from the United States filled with over 50 Beanie Babies, which the kids grabbed wide-eyed in excitement.
“Volunteering at the orphanage was a great experience,” said Paxia Her, a student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities who is studying at Korea University.