By Minjoo Seo

Before I came to Warm Heart I was a typical Korean young person who just follows whatever their parents say to do. For most of us that means getting good grades and going to a top university. I had never thought myself about what I really liked to do or what I could do well.  I just studied hard and competed with the other students. But after starting at university, I began asking myself why it was important to study so hard and who am I. So that’s why I decided to take a gap year and try new experiences.

My three months here at Warm Heart have taught me a whole new way of working and being. In Korea, we just passively follow whoever is in charge. Here at Warm Heart, everybody is
responsible for their own actions and activity. The volunteers are allowed a lot of freedom to design their own projects and then they manage themselves. You don’t always have somebody telling you what to do.

In Korea, people think that you shouldn’t do something unless you can do it well and the only winners are people with talent. So if you aren’t sure already that you can do something well, you are afraid to try new things. But here when I told Michael that I didn’t know if I could do something well, he said nobody knows how good you are but right now you are the best person for this job so just try. So I had to be brave and learn to try new things. At first I had problems adjusting because my English isn’t very good. But the other volunteers were always patient with me and everybody made sure to speak to me in a way that I could understand and so I was able to work.

First I did a mini-project with Josephine who is in charge of our Fashion Accessories microenterprise. She needed some thank you cards with drawings from the Warm Heart children. She was not happy with the cards made by a previous volunteer. As it was my first project here, I really wasn’t sure what to do but Josephine helped me. First we made sure that the children we used were good artists and wanted to do the project. Then she told me to find some suitable pictures which the children could copy so they could understand what we wanted. This first project taught me how to find practical solutions to a problem.

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Making thank you cards for Microenterprise

My next project was making a Korean-language blog for Naver which is like Google in Korea. Warm Heart attracts many Korean volunteers but we have no Korean webpage. There are also many young Koreans looking for an interesting overseas volunteer experience. I will try my best after I leave to keep the blog going but I hope that a future Korean volunteer can make the blog their project and make it better.

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Korean blog homepage

I also ended up working as a photographer for Warm Heart. First I took photographs of the different biochar activities and I was so glad to be able to help to improve the earth’s environment. Before coming here, I only took photos of my friends or family and never thought about what you can do with that ability. So having other people tell me that I am a good photographer and that I can use that ability to help other people was a great discovery for me. I also realize now how being good at something is a responsibility and that when people trust you, it gives you a lot of energy. When I took photos of our new microenterprise products, I also felt so proud when I saw my photos on our online website and realized that my work could help our rural women sell their products all over the world.

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Michael making biochar presentation

I also wanted to do something with the Warm Heart children. I know a lot about music so I decided to have a music class but the problem is that none of the children have instruments. So with Youjin, another Korean volunteer who had previously taught English to children, we decided to do a combined English and music class. I would teach them the music in an English song and Youjin would teach them the lyrics. We used YouTube videos and a computer keyboard for the music. I have to say that our results were not that great. What I learned is that just liking something does not mean you can teach it properly. To be a good music teacher, I need a lot more practice and preparation.

My music class with the Warm Heart kids

One Thursday night the three Korean volunteers decided to make a Korean dinner. I was ashamed because usually my mother cooks for my family. Once in awhile, I might make something but mostly I don’t know how to make the food I usually eat. Luckily Choi was both a good cook and he was really organized about everything, so Jaehui and I just had to be good helpers. We made a big meal with kimchee pancakes, kimchee soup and Korean chicken stew and everybody liked our food.

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Cooking Korean dinner with Choi

Every day I learned many things when I worked. I learned a lot from working with and observing the other volunteers. Even though nobody is watching them or judging them, everybody tries to do their best when they are working. They are all responsible for their projects and manage themselves so well. I think they are so awesome.

Me with my fellow volunteers

When I go home, I am going to try so many things that I used to think were just a waste of time, including cooking. I have also learned to think more about other people and how
they are affected by what I do or don’t do. My stay at Warm Heart has really opened up my previously small world.
(Minjoo Seo recently completed a three-month stay at Warm Heart)