Friday, June 29, 2012

Volunteer students help diplomats cross language, culture barriers

Lim You-nam, a third year student majoring in communications at Yonsei University, visits the U.S. Yongsan Army Garrison once every week to teach a diplomat's wife Korean.

The 22-year-old is participating for the second year in "Friends of Diplomats," an organization made up of university students from around Seoul to give one-on-one Korean language and culture classes to foreign diplomats. The group is part of the Gangnam Volunteer Center, which has been operating the program for five years.

Volunteers, who work as liaisons and hosts for foreign diplomats, are chosen from a pool of about 200 applicants and are paired with diplomats from 18 countries, including Kenya, Myanmar, El Salvador, France, Uzbekistan and Egypt.

After teaching the female ambassador from Uruguay for a year, Lim now teaches Evelyn Sullivan, a U.S. diplomat's spouse, in a two-hour session once a week.

"We started with consonants, vowels, festivals and culture," said Lim. "This year I am focusing on Korean culture."

Bae Jae-hyung, the program's coordinator, said he had been looking for long-term volunteer work that benefits society and found it in Friends of Diplomats. A university senior majoring in business administration, Bae worked with a Turkish diplomat in 2011.

"We aim at customized services and target foreigners," said Bae.

Friends of Diplomats has five teams in the organization: volunteering quality management, diplomat relationship management, media, human resources management and volunteer project planning. Each team has a leader who's selected by a group vote.

Besides teaching diplomats, Friends of Diplomats' volunteers also translate, work with different industries and companies, and run middle and high school camps. In 2011, volunteers attended the DMZ Festival and accompanied foreign teenagers to the truce village of Panmunjom. Friends of Diplomats also sent T-shirts to children in Sudan along with care packages, Bae said.

The selection process for volunteers includes essay writing and an interview. This year, 70 potential Korean teachers were interviewed in the winter.

Some of the sessions are about the very basics.

"We talked about the way that Koreans greet each other," Sullivan said. "I was told to bow instead of waving your hand."

She also learned that the way of exchanging money is also different in Korean culture. "It's the polite way to give something with both hands," Sullivan said. "It is graceful." Lim also explained to her that different gestures, like pointing, are considered rude.

Sullivan also uses textbooks to study Korean. "I organize my time and I do study in the mornings," she said. "In the evenings, I will review it. It isn't an easy language, but it is fun to learn this way." She feels as though she understands the Korean language better now.

Another Friends of Diplomats' volunteer is 22-year-old Kim Kay-oon who joined after hearing about the group from an acquaintance.
"My friend was in the organization," said Kim. "I chose a diplomat from Mexico."

Kim first met Rosalia Piceno Arrivillaga at her office in the Mexican Embassy. Arrivillaga is an attache in human rights affairs and has lived in Korea for nearly two years.

Arrivillaga tried taking a Korean class but found it inconvenient. She learned of Friends of Diplomats through her workmate. These days, Kim travels to Arrivillaga's office for their lessons. Arrivillaga is interested in learning more about Korean cuisine.

"This is a part of how we experience Korean society," said Arrivillaga. "The people are very well meaning and hard working."
Cultural exchanges such as this open up many other opportunities. Kim was chosen to volunteer at the Nuclear Security Summit through a Friends of Diplomats connection with the Indian Embassy.

Choi Jee-sung, the leader of the group's media team, meets weekly with her U.S. diplomat. Choi, a 21-year-old university student majoring in English education, said she feels rewarded when sharing the Korean language and culture with her diplomat family.
"I learn so many things from their unique experiences in Korea, and I sincerely feel that they come to occupy an important part of my life," Choi said.

"Friends of Diplomats provides me with a variety of voluntary experiences which I have never experienced," Choi said. "I hope to learn how to be more considerate and patient while doing voluntary works for people regardless of their background, gender and age."

Sullivan, Lim's student, has come to think of her teacher as family. "For me, she's like one of my nieces," she said.
"She's a very enthusiastic young girl," Sullivan said. "I'm open with her, and I'm not only interested in learning the language but the culture, too." (Yonhap)

No comments:

Post a Comment