Rethinking Our Approach to Global Volunteerism

김민경l승인2020.03.02l수정2020.03.02 14:07l376호 1면

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  Global volunteerism is volunteering for programs in other countries that help those in need. It is a popular activity that draws people in for the chance to help others work abroad, instead of at home. Global volunteering has become especially popular with many university students. They view it as an opportunity to build their resume for future employment. The publication Campus Job & Joy surveyed 1,000 Korean college students on their global volunteering experiences. A college student volunteer group hosted by Samsung Electronics Company topped the list of volunteer work satisfaction with 19.1%. This is mainly due to the fact that students believed it opened the door to possible future work opportunities at Samsung Electronics Company. On the other hand, there are many students who view global as a valuable activity for self-development. Despite volunteering activities taking place overseas, participants believe they can learn a lot about themselves as well as gain valuable experience in the process of serving abroad. Sa Min-hee, head of the KT&G Welfare Foundation said, “At first, I think students come to just volunteer, but by the end of their time, they usually tell me they learned a lot about themselves.” However, despite these exceptional opinions, most university students think of volunteering globally as simply a means to build up experience for employment and in my opinion. It is a sad that this form of volunteerism is losing its true meaning of making community connections.  

  According to an article in the Kyungyang newspaper in 1982, Korea’s first global volunteering program involved a group of medical students from Kyunghee University. Since then, global volunteerism has been carried out in earnest through various organizations including ‘The Korean Red Cross Society’, ‘Korea International Cooperation Agency’ and ‘Good Neighbors’. The number of global volunteers dispatched from South Korea has been increasing rapidly, every year since 1990. Global volunteer services can be divided into 3 forms. First are corporate dispatch services. For example, global volunteering sponsored by companies such as ‘Samsung’ and ‘Hyundai Company’. Second is global volunteering from schools. This is when the volunteer is sent directly from schools to posts overseas. The last form of global volunteerism is done through non-governmental organization (NGO) and participants are sent overseas to help accomplish the goals of the NGO’s cause. Participants choose the type of global volunteering opportunities that best suit their interests, skills and needs. However, university students tend to opt for programs out of their schools that operate on a short-team basis. Short-term global volunteerism is highly suitable to most students because posts do not require a long time commitment nor are the participants required to have a lot of experience. However, this is not to say that there haven’t been any problems with these types of volunteers. One growing concern is that a number of these volunteers have lost sight of the purpose of their service to the host community. College students, for example, have no professional knowledge and are unable to teach properly because of language barriers and time constraints. As a result, classes are organized based on ‘fun’, at an elementary school level. Each time the organizers send a volunteer group to the same school abroad, participants organize similar classes which are not particularly meaningful. In the end, volunteers are left questioning whether or not they were even helpful to their hosts.

  Another problem with this form of global volunteerism is that it is often an extremely one-sided donation in material form. President Chung Dong-koo of the Pacific Asian Society (PAS) said “Currently, there are problems with global volunteering where it appears to be simply trading gifts with delegations from each country. Significant volunteering should be done beyond these material transactions.” Finally, college students tend to accept certain standards of behavior because the countries are different and developing. The students think “They are like the children in our country, because they are from a developing country, so their actions aren’t their fault but rather stem from a lack of education.” With preconceived and limiting notions like this, it is no wonder  volunteers are unable to create an environment of growth and development for children in recipient nation. These problems fail to develop Korea’s relationships with recipient nations and deny our students the opportunity to feel like they are contributing to world peace. However, the aforementioned 3 problems with global volunteering for university students can be improved by: first, understanding what the agency in question needs. Lessons must be prepared to meet the needs of the target students at host institutions. This would mean a reduction in immature culture education such as K-pop classes and Taekwondo lessons and should instead focus on areas of education that could help develop the host nation and expand their education in that particular field. Next, we need to stop the repeated flow of volunteer exchanges that are based on material exchanges. Both parties should make efforts to provide educational support for the independent development of the recipient nations.. In addition, material exchanges require greater future monitoring of the contributions. Above all, participants need to refrain from thinking of their hosts as ‘developing’ countries. One college student who took part in PAS 2019 Winter in Thailand was asked the following questions, “What kind of children did you meet? Did you learn anything interesting during the dispatched period?”. She responded, “Unlike Korean children who want countless new toys, the children we met were able to think about how they could have the best fun with single toy.” “Children have great potential for happiness and learning. Therefore, volunteers should put aside their prejudices and see these kids as capable of more than we imagine and provide them with a real opportunity to learn and develop.”

  Global volunteering is one of the most valuable activities university students can experience at a young age. However, in order for these experiences to result in fond memories and valuable employment skills, more genuine interaction between the volunteers and their local beneficiaries is needed. Everyone will benefit from the experience, if they do.

▲ A college student volunteer group hosted by Samsung Electronics Company topped the list of volunteer work satisfaction with 19.1%. This is mainly due to the fact that students believed it opened the door to possible future work opportunities at Samsung Electronics Company. (Photo from Linkareer)

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