Why I’m a Rotarian in Korea

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Why I’m a Rotarian in Korea

This coming week, May 28 through June 1, Rotary Korea will host as many as 50,000 Rotarians, including tens of thousands of foreign visitors, to the annual Rotary International Convention at Kintex. Among the Rotary Korea members, there is a handful of foreign Rotary members of whom I am one. For more than a dozen years, I have been active in Rotary Korea. And who knows? You may be at a heart a Rotarian — but you just didn’t know it.

Rotary is a service organization literally found around the world. Our perennial slogan is “Service Above Self.” We often remark as professionals, “He — or she — who serves the most profits best!” The organization is open to all people of both genders, of all religions and creeds. Most people join us for three fundamental reasons. They are as follows:
Community Service — We believe that we all have in one way or another benefited from others’ prior contributions. Accordingly, we feel it is our responsibilities to give something back to society — particularly to those who are disadvantaged. We also provide scholarships for foreign students and underwrite the costs of Rotary peace programs.

Networking — When it comes to our outside work, we find it beneficial to find people of high ethical standards and unselfish attitudes. Fellow Rotarians are often extremely helpful as we move into new markets or areas of opportunities, at home or abroad.
Fellowship — Rotary provides many opportunities to meet people whom we would not otherwise meet, but who share some common, fundamental values. As a foreigner, Rotary has made it possible to meet many, many wonderful Koreans whom I would not otherwise meet. And when traveling abroad, I can always find a helpful and welcoming new friend in a local Rotarian.

Perhaps the most powerful — and practical — aspect of Rotary is how we try to apply the Four Way Test to our daily lives. This test quickly cuts to the nitty-gritty of how we should think and what we should do. Allow me to share it with you:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Frankly speaking, when I was first introduced to the above, I thought it was very nice and commendable. But having tried to live my life based on the Test, I found it really challenging yet helpful.

It is too easy to tell the truth — but not the whole truth, for example. But when you withhold important facts, are you being fair not only to the other person, but to all other people whom may be impacted on what you say?

Furthermore, does one build goodwill and friendship as a result of one’s actions, even if you tell all the truth and while trying to be fair and ethical? That is yet a higher ethical standard, isn’t it?

And finally, does everyone come out benefitting from dealing with you? How often can we make that claim? But still, isn’t that a wonderful goal for us to strive?

Returning to what Rotary is best known for, community service, I would be remised not to mention that Rotary International has joined forces with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO, UNICEF, and major philanthropists, such as the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, in the Polio Global Eradication Initiative. We all are on the cusp of victory with 99% of the world polio free.

Meanwhile, on the domestic level, local Rotary clubs individually and together with other clubs — often from overseas — tackle other issues, such fresh as water and sanitation needs. Here in Korea, we also support orphanages, help unwed mothers and assist in feeding the homeless, to name just a few of our activities.

But to give a balanced account, I should admit we have not been without challenges. As an organization with over a hundred years of legacy, we have had to struggle to breakaway from old habits that have become dated.

We are no longer a men’s only club. We now include women — many of whom now serve in leadership roles. We are no longer exclusively a rich man’s club where charity has meant simply donating money. We are now more active in raising money and getting our hands dirty in our service to others.

Also, we are breaking out of the well-earned stereotype of being an old man’s organization. We have created vibrant and enthusiastic Young Leaders Clubs for up and coming community leaders, now in their twenties and early thirties.

Finally, given that this is an English language newspaper (and the official English newspaper covering the Rotary International convention), I need mention that I belong to Korea’s original Rotary Club, founded in 1927. It is the only English-speaking Rotary Club in Seoul. All of the other 1600+ Korean-speaking clubs of some 62,000 members have evolved from us over the past decades.

Rotarians welcome all people of good will and honor to join us in serving others as well as enriching our families’ lives. Next time you see someone sporting a Rotary pin, why not ask him or her about Rotary? You may soon be seeing for yourself why I am a Rotarian.

*The author is a long-term resident of Korea, owner/photographer of Onsite Studios, president of Soft Landing Korea, and since 2002, a District 3650 member of Rotary International.

Tom Coyner
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