Servas Korea

Sarah and I were fortunate to be involved with the Servas International Conference in Matamata last year and met some of the members of the large delegation from South Korea. We knew very little about the country and even less about the 51 million people who call it home but, after talking with some of the delegates and learning a little about their country, we decided to accept their invitation to visit.

Servas Korea is a very active organisation with a large number of members, many of whom attend Servas activities around the country and abroad. We flew from Auckland to Seoul on 4th. May and our first host was Mrs.Park Jung Hee who was in New Zealand last year and lives in the Southern city of Busan. Over the next two days she and another Servas host,Mr Jang showed us the sights of their city and surrounding district. One evening they organised a dinner at a traditional restaurant with some of the many hosts in their city which was great fun. Sitting on the floor at the little low tables was a bit of a challenge!

We had not intended staying with more than two hosts during our two weeks in
S. Korea but our hosts were concerned to think we were not staying with hosts all the time so re-arranged our itinerary so that we could be hosted almost every night. After many phone calls they handed us a list of hosts they had contacted who would take care of us during the rest of our stay,which bus to take and on which day. As we moved around they would ring each host in turn just to make sure we had arrived safely!

With a population of 51 million and a land area slightly less than our North Island most people live in high-rise apartments. Over 70% of the country is mountainous and covered in forest reserves and all remaining flat land is intensively farmed and growing a wide range of vegetables. Many were horrified when we mentioned the ever increasing amount of good farm land in New Zealand that is built on .We were taken up into the mountains one day to visit an ancient Buddhist temple in order to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. A very important day for many Koreans and a wonderful,happy occasion for us to be part of.

The five host families we stayed with and the many other Servas members we met all went out of their way in order that we experienced as much as possible of their fascinating country. We were visiting a small park one day and saw cyclist wearing bright Lycra and when he got closer we could read the logo on his back: “Servas Cycling for Peace.”He was one of a group of members who get together to tour different parts of the country spreading the Servas message as they go. Given the history of the country up to the present day and into the future, “Peace” is very important and it is encouraging to see Servas taking an active role in promoting this. All we spoke to expected that the division between the North and the South would one day cease to exist.

Our Impressions of South Korea: Very clean and tidy with no rubbish or graffiti;very safe and friendly with a great emphasis on education. Easy to get around with excellent railways and buses and in the larger cities, user friendly subways. Once again,we were impressed by the Servas members we met and can not speak highly enough of the Organisation as a means of getting to know another country and the people who live there. “The World is full of Friends we haven’t met.”

Rodney&Sarah Faulkner