This winter break finds students at home, abroadWinter vacation for many students is a time to study, earn money or relax. The J-Talk staff interviewed students in Korea and abroad about their vacation plans. A dancer who journeyed to France to follow her dreams will be in Paris for the holidays, a nuclear engineering student volunteered to help the poor, a missionary will tour Canada and a graduate student will join his host family in revelry. For these students, Christmas is indeed something very special.
Dance fever leads to France, where the cure is more dancing
Last year Choi Sook-won was a sophomore at Sungshin Women’s University, studying French literature. But her real interests were elsewhere: dance. In the winter of 2002, she made a major decision. Against her parents’ wishes, Ms. Choi bought a one-way ticket to Paris.
Ms. Choi wanted to learn modern dance in depth in France. “I saved enough money from my tutoring job to take care of myself, so I was ready to go,” she says.
For the first six months in France, she enrolled as a student at a French language institute. “Even though I studied the language for almost two years in Korea, it seemed like I was starting all over again,” she says.
She also took ballet and mime classes at the Studio Montparnasse, Paris. Her goal was to gain admission to the Le Centre National De Danse Contemporaine in Angers. CNDC is the most prestigious school of modern dance in France. “I decided to come France and learn modern dance since I just couldn’t give up my major at university,” Ms. Choi says. “So far, I’ve never regretted my choice. Modern dance in France has reached quite a sophisticated point. I will be very honored if I can be a part of that”
This winter, however, she has decided to take a break. “I think I rushed to my goal too hard. I really need a break,” she says about her plans for the Christmas break. “Even though I’ve lived in France almost a year, I never got out of Paris. People cannot believe I have never left Paris since the rest of Europe is so accessible.”
Ms. Choi says she is going to visit Anger first to visit her new school and then turn southward and travel to Cannes and Nice. “It will be nice to spend Christmas in a warm place on the Mediterranean far from the cold of Paris,” she says.
But for New Year’s Eve, she is going to return to the City of Lights.”I won’t miss all the splendid fireworks that are going to be displayed at the Eiffel Tower,” Ms. Choi says.
A calling that takes her far from home to take care of others
Lim Yoo-jin went to Canada to work as a missionary last winter. She volunteered with Youth With A Mission, an international Christian organization of young adults. This will be her second Christmas in Canada. “Last year, I was so busy adjusting to the new environment that I couldn’t enjoy my first Christmas very much,” Ms. Lim says. “I wanted to sing in the choir, but I had to be satisfied with seeing others sing.” This Christmas, however, she will join other missionary volunteers from all around the world to sing carols to senior citizens in care centers.
So far, Ms. Lim says, she has enjoyed her stay in Canada. At St. Barnabas Study Centre in Westbank in British Columbia, she has shared her faith through many projects ― from agricultural training to running medical clinics. “One of the good things about this missionary thing is that I can meet all sorts of people from all over the world,” Ms. Lim says. “I’m very delighted since I can feel that my whole horizon about the world is expanding.”
The shortcomings of the missionary work? “So far, I’ve found none,” Ms. Lim says. “ I am very much convinced that being a missionary is my calling. The last one-year stay in Canada firmed my decision.”
At first she wanted to go to a Third World country, where she thought the need was greatest. However, her parents opposed her decision so much, citing insecurity in unstable regions, that she had to change her destination. “The spiritual needs are not absent just because people are rich. I have to admit that I had some doubts about the missionary activities in Canada, a highly developed country,” Ms. Lim says. “But I was surprised to find out that there are many non-believers here.”
Currently enrolled as a sophomore at Ewha Womens University, Ms. Lim plans to return to Korea at the end of next month. For the rest of her stay in Canada, she plans to continue her volunteer work and travel on her own.
“When I return home, first I have to finish my studies. I am thinking about a major in theology,” Ms. Lim says. “After I get my bachelor’s degree, I am going to work as a missionary and go anywhere the Lord sends me.”
Celebrating Christmas with host family miles from Korea
Leaving a stable job in Korea as an associate in the research department of the Financial Supervisory Service, Eo Yun-jong traveled to the United States in July to achieve his dream. In a new country, this brave young man looks forward to a future as a great economist. “I had no doubts and no fears about going to the States alone,” says Mr. Eo, who is now enrolled in Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
After finishing his undergraduate degree at Korea University, Mr. Eo returned there to continue his graduate studies. He was accepted to Washington University for a PhD program in economics. He arrived in Missouri last summer.
Entering his very first winter break in an unfamiliar place, which will be his home for at least the next five years, Mr. Eo plans to stay in St. Louis to study macroeconomics and microeconomics. “Most of my friends leave here to spend Christmas holidays with family and friends back in their home country. I am also anxious to be with my family, but I decided not to go back without a good record of coursework.”
Instead of returning to Korea, Mr. Eo will be spending Christmas with his host family. “This is quite a new experience for me to spend the most Western holiday with Americans in their native country. Actually, I have practiced singing hymns in the choir for Christmas service.” Mr. Eo has rehearsed for the last four Sundays. Asked about singing in the choir, he hesitated before giving an answer. “I thought I did not have the faith to sing in front of other believers, but I am enjoying singing psalms.”
Before going to America, Mr. Eo says, he rarely thought about his family, even during the holiday seasons. “I had always been busy completing my master's course. Last winter vacation I was applying to several schools in the United States, finishing my master's dissertation and getting training in a new work place. Last Christmas was like any other day, not a holiday or any special day for me.”
Mr. Eo says he regrets spending last winter in social isolation. He says that although he will not be with friends and family in Korea, he will celebrate a genuine Christmas with a real Christmas tree in his host family's home. “Some people may feel sorry for me because of my situation, but I am delighted with a completely different experience in a foreign country. I am excited to select Christmas gifts and cards, something I never did in Korea.” His voice through the telephone receiver seems cheerful, and one can almost imagine his face covered with a smile.
Joining the Army to fight for those most in need
A brass band cheerfully plays “O Holy Night” on the streets of Myeong-dong, central Seoul. The musicians are dressed in the classic Salvation Army red, as is Shim Tae-young. The Hanyang University student stands near the band, handing out flyers. “I’ve always wanted to try fund-raising with the Salvation Army,” says Mr. Shim, a nuclear engineering student.
The 23-year-old hit the streets on Monday, armed with the Army’s new fund-raising tool -- the cell phone. Instead of dropping money inside a red bucket, donors are encouraged to send money through their cell phones. “It’s a technology that young people understand, but it’s so new that it can be intimidating,” he says.
Mr. Shin will be raising money through today; the volunteers get Christmas Day off. After meeting his friends on tomorrow, he says he will spend the rest of his vacation tutoring students and studying English. “My volunteer effort is short and sweet,” he says.
The first time Mr. Shim donated his time to a not-for-profit cause was a year ago at Gangnam Family Welfare Center. His college awards course credit for volunteer work. “There aren’t that many ways to help people, but there are a lot of people who need help,” Mr. Shim says. “I always feel warm after giving back to the community.”
As a result of his actions, Mr. Shim’s friends are also volunteering. “I followed in the steps of my college alumni, and my friends have followed me.” He knows about 30 students from his college who are spending some of their winter vacation as volunteers.
After graduation, Mr. Shim says he will continue volunteering. “I’ve heard of companies that send staff members out to volunteer as a form of team training,” he says. Even if he’s not hired by a company that promotes volunteer efforts, Mr. Shim says, “I’ll find a way.”
by The JTalk staff