My name is Emma Thompson, I am an English teacher working in Kyung Hye Girls Middle School in Daegu City. I have lived in Korea for six years, five of those with EPIK and four at my current school. I have been volunteering for the Korean Animal Protection Society (KAPS) for almost the full six years. I am currently the Lead Volunteer Co-ordinator for the foreign volunteer team of KAPS.
KAPS was founded in 1989 and became a charity in 1991. I met the charity's founder, Sunnan Kum, back in October 2007. We quickly became friends and knowing her and her family has greatly influenced my understanding of Korean culture and people. The Korean Animal Protection Society is a Korean-run charity with two shelters in Daegu City, where it takes dogs and cats rescued from the streets. KAPS also tries to educate Koreans about pet care and animal rights. The work I do with KAPS focuses on bringing in foreigners to assist the Korean staff with their work in a variety of ways: we raise funds, we walk dogs, we raise awareness at events and we try to increase the number of Koreans involved with KAPS.
Volunteering has had a profound effect on my life. The work I do with KAPS does help animals in Korea, but it also helps me. Through volunteering I have met some fantastic people, I have learned some transferable skills I would have never had the opportunity to learn in a regular job and I achieve a great sense of satisfaction.
While it is true that the extent to which I volunteer is rather extreme, people I have met who only volunteer occasionally still feel a great positive impact from that time. Volunteering anywhere can be of great benefit to you, but volunteering whilst living in Korea somehow triples the impact. You get all the regular benefits but with an increased dose of communication skills and cultural understanding, which can really improve your experience of Korea. Spending time with Korean people outside work can help you understand them far better and really appreciate the culture.
When I first started volunteering with KAPS I was the only foreign volunteer, I felt strongly that foreigners could benefit from KAPS but also that KAPS could benefit from their help so I started a Facebook group and tried to recruit more people. In the beginning I didn't have much success, until one of the first volunteers suggested doing a dog walk. These walks have really been the gateway to success for my volunteer project. This one event has brought us most of our current team members and has increased the awareness of KAPS and it's work across the city.
For me getting help to do more was really important. I knew I didn't have enough knowledge of animal rescue work to do everything myself so very early on I was looking for people who knew more than me. This manifested itself in the building of a team. At first this was very haphazard with me just asking for help from anyone who turned up, as time has gone on it has become a much more purposeful task. I am now much clearer about the kinds of people who work well together and finding people who not only want to help but have the energy, patience, time and passion to fit in well with the team and help us make a difference. These team members do a variety of different jobs and are all volunteers. Some are in charge of our foreigner adoption or fostering programs, others focus on graphic design, others on fundraising. Over six years the volunteer team has grown from one foreigner to currently a 8 person, multicultural, multilingual team with wide connections across the community.
Being on the KAPS team is pretty fun, but also a lot of hard work. All our team members work full time so they learn time management skills pretty quickly. Living, working and volunteering in Korea means you really learn a lot about Korean people and the culture. You find better ways to increase your impact with foreigners, your students and your co-teachers and you learn better ways to communicate your ideas and needs to a wide range of people.
KAPS team members work with each other, with foreigners and with Koreans. We talk to people face-to-face, on the phone or over email. We often encounter problems, which at home might have been easy to fix but with the different rules and language barrier in Korea can seem insurmountable, and we find ways to solve them. Our work has made all of the KAPS team members stronger, more open minded, more passionate and excellent team workers and leaders.
Everyone who chooses to volunteer in Korea, whether with KAPS or one of the other very valuable organizations, will feel a positive impact from their time doing good. Helping others really does help you too. Whilst living in Korea though it is really important to keep learning and keep stretching ourselves. Volunteering is a great way to do this and, of course, looks fantastic on your resume. I would absolutely advise anyone living and working in Korea to do some volunteering at some time, it will help you feel more at home here and who knows, it may even change your life.