A popular Asian tourist destination, South Korea, has much more to offer than just K-Pop groups, taekwondo, and delicious food like bibimbap, bulgogi, and kimchi. South Korea has no shortage of fascinating history, but also fits seamlessly within the modern world as one of the most industrious nations in the world. Therefore, those who volunteer in Korea can likewise shift between old and new world projects. Volunteer opportunities in South Korea span from childcare and tutoring to community building, and agricultural work. If volunteering in a tradition-rich, urban-friendly setting is what you are longing for, then kick off your boots and become a volunteer in South Korea.
Just east of China, between the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, is the industrious peninsula that is North and South Korea. Though the two are distinctly separated by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which runs almost exactly through the middle of the peninsula. From the thriving capital city of Seoul to its smaller fishing villages in the Gangwon province to the many beautiful islands like, Jeju and Geoje, South Korea’s geography is unique and varied.
Step into one of Asia’s not-so hidden gems by volunteering in Seoul. Located in the northwest region of the country, Seoul is home to 10 million people, making it the second largest metro area in the world. Don’t be fooled by its urban appearance though, Seoul is actually divided by the Han River and mountains, giving the city a very unique outdoorsy vibe. Seoul is the perfect choice for any urban explorer, but also for curious historians, and even nature lovers. From the thriving nightlife, delicious food, and shopping districts to ancient architecture, Seoul is a city fit for nearly anyone. Volunteer programs in Seoul typically center around community, with opportunities to work in orphanages, schools, hospitals, and community centers.
Travel eastward for about two hours and you’ll enter the Gangwon Province capital city of Chuncheon. This city gains its charm from its small river islands, such as Sangjungdo, Ha-Jungdo, Bungeodo, and Wido. Chuncheon has become a popular destination for Asian tourists, and with all the festivals that happen year-round it is no wonder why. Volunteering in Chuncheon is very different than volunteering in Seoul, even though they may offer similar types of placements.
There is also great opportunity for agricultural volunteering in South Korea in the province of Gyeonggi. This type of program is very unique to South Korea, as it gives volunteers the chance to experience organic farming techniques and be introduced to Korea’s healthy lifestyle.
Volunteering in South Korea
Volunteering in South Korea is a great opportunity to step into another world and become engulfed in a brand new culture, while enhancing the lives of those in need. Many volunteer programs in South Korea revolve around community development, childcare, and teaching English.
Although South Korea as a whole is a very developed nation, there are still areas where further development is needed, especially when it comes to community building as opposed to structural developments. Those who choose to volunteer in South Korea outside of Seoul will find more community-based placement opportunities, which have their own set of benefits. Oftentimes, further-flung volunteer programs in South Korea, as well as the rest of the world, offer more unique cultural lessons than what you’d find in modernized cities.
No matter how you decide to volunteer in Korea, you will most definitely gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Korean people and culture. Any individual volunteering will allow you to experience the deeper layers of Korean culture - you know, the ones that tourists skim over - including cooking and preparing food or participating in evening activities after a long day’s work.
Volunteer programs in South Korea last anywhere from a few weeks to multiple months to a year. It is important to research program length and keep in mind the type of project you would like to be placed in before selecting your specific placement. For example, volunteer placements in South Korea that involve working with children tend to last longer than those dealing with community work.
Costs & Affordability
Volunteering in South Korea won’t necessarily be cheap, as living abroad for any reason will always cost some amount of money. As one of the leading industrious nations in the world, South Korea’s standard of living is high, and Seoul is considered one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. However, if you choose to volunteer in Korea in a smaller city, like Chuncheon, you’ll have slightly lower costs of living, but amenities will also be less too. Although the cost of volunteering in South Korea can be high, don’t let that discourage you from taking the leap. There are plenty of ways to fundraise for your trip! Check out crowdfunding sites like FundmyTravel to get started.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Korea offer dormitory style apartments or “group living.” This style of accommodations allows you to become more connected with your fellow volunteers as you experience the local culture together. In smaller cities, you might opt to pursue living with a homestay, as this arrangement will allow you to see how Koreans live their everyday lives outside of the major cities.
Depending on your country of origin and the length of your volunteer program in South Korea, you will have different visa requirements, but every foreigners needs a visa to enter South. Though the visa process in Korea is not difficult, it will likely take significant time; it’s wise to check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for the most up to date information in the early stages of your trip planning.
Benefits & Challenges
South Korea is a truly beautiful country where the only rivals to its breathtaking landscape, distinct cuisine, and architecture are its people. The language barrier will almost be irrelevant in comparison (just a small price to pay for the beauty of your surroundings!), and even if it does pose a problem, most Koreans are more than willing to help foreigners in need. Beyond the colorfully lit shopping districts, cat cafes(!!!), and Korean barbeque, as a volunteer in South Korea you will be exposed to a rich culture very unique from its neighbors.
Many Korea-bound volunteers have worries about overall safety, given that North Korea is literally just next door. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is heavily guarded, so there is no immediate need to be concerned, however. In addition to the DMZ being protected at all times, the two countries have been meeting recently to address tensions and discuss tactics on how to build a better relationship.
If you are ready to step outside your comfort zone, meet new people from all over the world, and get fat from overeating some of the most delicious food on the planet, all while contributing to the positive growth of a community and a brighter day in someone’s life, then volunteering in South Korea is the perfect opportunity for you.