Volunteering


   Saturday I woke up early to make it out to Oryu-dong to volunteer with orphans at an orphanage in that neck of the woods. I’m  definitely trying to keep up my work with kids who have lost a parent or sibling and though I know that I won’t be working in the same capacity (I will be teaching English and playing, not facilitating groups or counseling) it still feels good to volunteer.

   The trip started out a little rough since I was fifteen minutes late due to getting a little lost on the subway and catching the wrong connector. Luckily enough as I went out the exit I saw a group of twelve people around my age that stood out as probably being the group I was meeting with. I found out about this opportunity through Bean Social Network’s Seoul chapter and their facebook page which I’m a member of. Bean is kind of like a Facebook but for people interested in non-profit and volunteering opportunities.

   After a few introductions we made our way to the orphanage and met with the kids. There were 13 of us total and probably about 30ish kids so it definitely wasn’t an overload. The children were divided into age groups and the divvied amongst the volunteers. We had coloring and crossword handouts and worked with the kids.

   The English level was very hard for me to gauge since many of the children were so shy but it was a lot of fun hanging out and seeing them slowly become more confident and go from single word responses to all of a sudden busting out a sentence or two. I definitely didn’t feel like I was getting as much quality teaching done as I do at my school but focused more on the fact that for kids who didn’t have a lot of opportunities any exposure to English was probably great.

Getting first sand in the shoe of the summer!

  After an hour of teaching we headed out to the yard and played with the children. I would play soccer with some of the older kids and simple games like paper, scissors, rock or spin the kid till they went airborne game. It was a great time and I felt awesome during and afterwards. It’s always great doing something like this and I am adamant that it is not a selfless act, you feel really positive and have a great natural high for some time after you have stopped.

   Great heart medicine. Also it’s an outstanding way to meet some like-minded individuals. We had a handful of  Koreans, both from within the country and American born, as well as foreigners from Texas, India and other spots. I was surprised to learn one of the volunteers was from Tacoma which is right next to my hometown South of Seattle (it’s a really big small-world sometimes…), and where I had done some of my initial volunteering back in high school.

I got a little choked up in the PC Bang writing this to the kids I do grief camp with as a counselor for the last 3 Summers. I attended this camp as a child and it meant a ton to me. This is the first time I’ve felt somewhat homesick. I’m alright with that, lets me know I’m human.

Hello to my Seabeck family!
   I’m writing this to you guys at 5:00 on Sunday night from a PC Bang (that’s an internet cafe in South Korea) since I don’t have a computer yet. Really miss seeing you guys at Seabeck this year, I have my “Nathan Columbus” award taped up on the wall of my apartment and think about you all every time I see it. The kids at my school are really great, they pick up English quickly and have a bunch of nicknames for me like “Panther teacher” because of my hairy arms and “Magic teacher” from the science classes I teach. Today I went to a local orphanage and did free English lessons with the kids there and then played some Soccer with them out in the sandlot. My time here is really showing me that no matter how different cultures can be all over the world we all have some of the most important things in common. We all cherish our friends and family and the love we share. Even though these kids have lost both their parents and have no family to take them in there are dedicated people who are trying their hardest to ease their pain and give them the tools to make a life for themselves. Their lives have been really rough but they all laugh, play practical jokes and love to play. It’s really heartening to know that is a universal part of people worldwide. Hopefully after my time here I’ll learn more about people from all walks of life and how to help them deal with the death of a loved one even better. I know you have all had an awesome weekend and some great talks. Know that I am so proud of you all for the amazing strength and bravery you show on the journey of grief and am there with you in Spirit right now. Love you guys and look forward to hearing all about Seabeck this year and seeing you in the future. Erica and Nick can give you my email feel free to contact me at any time for any reason. Keep your hearts big and full of life.
 
Your friend always,
Nathan Hanson

   Today I started writing the monologue for the video they will be showing at the child bereavement camp I volunteer at every summer. It will just be a short 2-3 minute video saying hello to the kids, wishing them well, letting them know how much they mean to me and explaining why I can’t be there. In addition to this I wrote and sent off letters to a few of the teenage boys I usually do more of the one-on-one counseling with explaining how much I regret not being able to be there this year and why this year abroad is so important for me. I really hope they understand, they’re a great group and deserve a few breaks in what has been a life with quite a few tough obstacles to overcome.

    The camp is located at Seabeck, WA and the program that oversees it is known as WICS (Widowed Information Consultant Services) and our specific program Wings is a 3 day session in which kids ranging from kindergartener to teen can all come together with their peers, enjoy group games, hangout at the campfire and talk about the death of a parent or sibling with each other or one of the certified counselors without fear of judgement.

   Unlike many non-profit programs that do more support groups for just the widower, WICS focuses on how to help the family unit as a whole gain some coping skills to deal with the loss a family member. I’ve been one of the few certified youth counselors and have also been the go to speech guy. As my co-facilitator ( the only other counselor with certifications) puts it: I do the big speeches like closing and she tries to take pictures and not cry too much. She’s easily one of the biggest sweethearts I know. The amount of pride I feel in my little brother for stepping up to help out in my absence can’t be expressed in words, this is not a subject that has been easy for him (in truth I feel it is a subject that is not easy for anyone). I’m blessed to have a bro with such a big heart.

   My mother died of AML leukemia at the age of thirty. This camp means a lot to me. Not only was it the same one I attended when I was a little squirt and trying to get by in a world were most other little kids couldn’t even accept the death of parent (tykes have some admirable internal self-defense mechanisms) but this is where I had a lot of the formative moments that put me on the path not only be able to accept the fact that I lost a parent at an early age, but to see the unique perspective it puts me in and some of the strengths as a person associated with that. When you can find the silver lining of any tragic event you have gone along ways towards dealing with that event. Cherishing each moment on this world and trying to make the most of it are hard-earned victories. These experiences also were strong precursors in wanting to make a career out of helping out kids and teens who are going through the journey of grief. Seabeck was the first time where I was a co-speaker with my father for some of the grief seminars on helping out parent’s raising a teenager without the support of a spouse. My father’s advice on impromptu speech creation and drawing inspiration from the heart have given my some of my most powerful tools as an orator.

   The memories I have from my time here have shown me much about the power of the human spirit. From Dr. Bob the Psych PhD who used to let us kids talk to his ventriloquist dummy if they didn’t feel comfortable opening up to an “old fart with glasses” (his words not mine, haha) and put us at ease with a multitude of magic tricks to the charismatic young counselor in his mid-twenties who had lost his own father as a child in the line of duty as a police officer. Many of my earliest role models were encountered. I discovered what Judaism was when my good friend at camp declined on bacon at the cafeteria at breakfast. All in all every time I set foot on the small camp property out on the Olympic Peninsula by Hood’s Canal I’m awash in a wave of powerful memories. Good juju to say the least.

   Since the camp is in June and I leave for Seoul in May this will be the first time in many years I will be unable to attend. While this causes some emotional pain and regret I know that it is for the best in the long-term. As time goes on and the group of teens and children we work with grow more and more diverse it has become apparent to me that to really make a difference in this field I need to be able to understand how grief is expressed in other cultures and just how values differ from culture to culture.

   All of us express the sensation of loss and longing for the presence of a love one in different ways due to our age, sex, family setup, geographical location and a multitude of other factors. We all also go through many different stages on the long and sometimes taxing journey of grief. If I am to be a sherpa to so many of these climbers making such a difficult ascent of the peak of grief I need to become a world citizen. I have lived in a fairly small and geocentric locale all my life and it would be easy for this to become an Achille’s heel towards my career goals of helping to reinvent the bereavement field.

  To counteract the feeling of regret at not being able to be at Seabeck this year I decided to be proactive and start researching opportunities in South Korea to exercise my field in some capacity. While initially having some difficulties in discovering potential avenues the other day I struck gold (picture me pumping fist in air with loud “Eureka!” haha). I wrote in to one of my favorite expat blogs in SoKo (ChrisinSouthKorea.com) and was delighted at his in-depth and well thought out response.

  I’m in the process of contacting the non-profit HOPE so that I can be one of their volunteer teacher’s during the off-time from my Hagwon (name of a private English school). Working at orphanages near my home in Seoul will be a great way to not only further my ability to accomplish further enrichment in this field but hopefully to ease the pain of homesickness and to show the world that we Americans put an emphasis on the enrichment of all human beings regardless of race or geographical location. Everyone deserves a chance to make something of themselves. If all goes well I can do much to fight the negative stereotypes of Americans abroad as self-centered and closed-minded. I cannot wait to start my adventure and eagerly await overcoming the trials and tribulations awaiting my in my soon to be home far from home.