Guest Author: Caroline Hosey, An Adventure of the Seoul
Time has been going by so quickly since I arrived in South Korea. If it was not for a calendar, I would be oblivious to the fact that three months have gone by since I arrived in Seoul. I’ve moved through life at a manic pace; diving into every opportunity that comes my way with complete abandonment. From dancing the nights away in Hongdae and Itaewon, to exploring temples and palaces, from eating live octopus, and to all the countless adventures in between, I have taken little time to truly center myself since I arrived. I am not saying this is a bad thing, as I have been having the time of my life, but I knew it was time for a break when February came knocking on my door.
My coworker knew I was looking for a low-key weekend, so she suggested I come with her to volunteer at Angel House. A community home for people with disabilities, Angel House’s residents are between 1 and 70 years of age and they all have a mental or physical disability. The center was founded in October 1993 by Jang Soon-ok, an orphan who was abandoned by her parents due to her physical disability. She decided to open Angel House to provide a sanctuary for her son and daughter and also for other disability patients who need a place to call home. Angel House receives no government support, and it is fully sustained by donations. The residence is at full capacity. I think it’s incredible that this place is able to sustain itself on its own, and I am so thankful that I was able to contribute in my own way.
Mental disorders seem to be somewhat of a taboo subject in Korea. According to the Korean Times, there is a drastic underlying fear of visiting psychiatric institutes; and many Koreans shun the idea of getting proper psychiatric help because of this social taboo. Some people believe this is why Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Ashley and I took the subway to the Younsinae Station and met up with about 20 other volunteers. We ended up hopping on a bus that took us up into the mountains. Our journey was over in under 30 minutes. Upon arrival at Angel House that weekend, I was assigned to a group. There were several groups helping out in different ways, such as cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. I originally signed up to help cook, but they needed more hands to do the laundry, so Ashley and I did that instead. It was actually a lot of fun, as I got to try my hand at hand washing clothes on a washboard. Everyone on the laundry team was in a great mood, so although the work was hard, it was still a time for laughter and I got to meet some amazing new friends.
Once we had dispensed with the work, it was time to spend some time with the residents of Angel House. The first group of people that I met was a group of younger children that were happy to engage in some hilarious monkey business. They thought my favorite brown hat was a hoot, and they loved it when I covered up my face and pretended I couldn’t see. Their laughter was contagious and T felt my soul fill with love and happiness.
I also shared some special moments with some of the older ladies. Even though I couldn’t speak Korean with them, I found a way to communicate with one lady who started humming a song. When I started humming along with her, her eyes lit up and she added some words and waited patiently for me to repeat after her. Suddenly, everyone was clapping along with us and the moment turned into a sing-a-long. At the end, all we could do was smile and laugh over the connection we had made together. Now I know what it means to say that music is powerful. I won’t ever forget that moment. Just before I left, an old lady kissed my hand and made a heart shape over her head with her hands. One of the volunteers told me that the lady was telling me that I have a heart full of love.
Tips on Finding Volunteer Work in Korea
Finding volunteer groups can be slightly tricky, as many of them do not have leaders that speak fluent English. Furthermore, take note that you are required to have an E-2 visa in order to volunteer. In the past it was illegal for foreigners to volunteer, but the current laws allow it as long as you are not being compensated.
Angel House, Seoul
You can visit Angel House on the first Saturday of every month. You’ll be responsible for cleaning the facilities, doing laundry, cooking food, basic personal hygiene for the residents, and having fun with the residents. Each volunteer has to pay 10,000 won to cover the cost of food for the day, as you will be cooking the food and eating it with the residents. The remainder of your payment is donated to Angel House for the residents.
I found Angel House through Facebook, but if you live in a different region of Korea, or if you want to browse other volunteer opportunities check out Always Hope. You can also read up on this site: Volunteer in Seoul
Volunteering at Angel house has been my most memorable experience thus far, so those of you in Korea for an extended amount of time, I highly recommend taking a break to volunteer. It will not only be a rewarding and unforgettable adventure, but you will also gain a completely new perspective of Korean culture.
Caroline Hosey grew up in Savannah, Georgia. During her studies at Emory University, she majored in English and developed a love for writing as well as a fascination for Eastern philosophy and religion. After her graduation she spent time working in the music industry where she developed a passion for life on the road. Caroline currently resides in Seoul, South Korea where she is teaching English and writing about all of her new adventures. Korea is her first experience living abroad, but it won’t be her last!