It wasn’t so long ago that Korea was a host country to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, during my time living in Korea, I ran into several individuals who remember their encounters with Peace Corps volunteers including the volunteer’s name, age at the time they were in Korea and hometown. It was really quite touching to hear former students (some of them now government officials) recalling their Peace Corps teachers back when the program was in operation from 1966 to 1981.
But times have changed now.
Over the past few decades, Korea has gone from being a country with a GDP per capita comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia to “a member of the trillion dollar club of world economies.” [CIA World Factbook]
It is now a high-tech, developed nation with a democratically elected government. It is also a country with it’s own version of the U.S. Peace Corps.
The government launched a group of volunteers Thursday to strengthen its goodwill activities in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world in an effort to become a more responsible member of the international community.The group, named World Friends Korea, is the country’s version of the Peace Corps in the United States, launched in 1961 to promote peace and friendship worldwide, officials here said.
About 2,000 volunteers belong to the Korean body, but the membership will grow to over 3,000 by the end of the year, according to a spokesman from the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. Currently, the U.S. is the only country that sends more than 3,000 volunteers abroad annually. [Korea Times]
While I am a little wary of the “branding” efforts the government hopes will result from this program (Korea Times: “Chairman Euh Yoon-dae of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding hoped such efforts will help Korea become a respected and beloved nation”), I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for Koreans to give and assist people in need througout the world and to exchange cultural understanding. This is incredibly significant considering where Korea was just decades ago.
So my contragulations goes out to Korea for developing the country’s own version of Peace Corps. And the best of luck to the nation’s new World Friends Korea volunteers.