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Saturday, September 18, 2010

WWOOFing Through Korea
















Sept. 18 (Jeju Weekly) If such a thing as a typical tourist to Korea exists, Julian Evans-Pritchard is unlikely to fit the bill. The 20-year-old from Kent in the United Kingdom first came to the country last summer at the suggestion of his Korean girlfriend, with whom he had been studying Chinese in Beijing.

He returned in August to see more of the country and chose a relatively unusual means to do so – by joining WWOOF Korea. (The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and the volunteer workers in this movement are referred to as WWOOFers.)

“I wanted to spend a bit longer in Korea and get to know the place better,” Evans-Pritchard said. “So I decided I should do something apart from just being a tourist.”

A Swedish friend who had gained experience of the WWOOF program in England, where it began in 1971, recommended it to him. “I went on their Web site and it looked like something I would enjoy,” the Kent man added.

Evans-Pritchard recently spent a week in the sweet persimmon village near Changwon as part of a promotional program WWOOF Korea is running in the lead-up to the November G20 summit in Seoul.

“That was a really fun program as there were a group of us going together. There was me, a French guy, a girl from Taiwan and two Korean volunteers. It was a really fun experience because you did a lot of activities and got to know the other people really well,” he said.

He decided to continue the program on Jeju and explains how he chose the island as a destination. “I was looking through the WWOOF book and it stood out to me because it’s an island and it has so many beautiful things to see here.”

“I’d already traveled around a bit in Korea the last time I came, to the east coast. But I’d never been down to the south and I thought that coming to Jeju-do would be the most special thing I could do,” the traveler explained.

WWOOF Korea coordinator Jade Jo recommended Seoul Farm in the village of Shinrye in Seogwipo and Evans-Pritchard arranged with hosts Oh Mi Suk and her husband, Koh Moon Gyu, to stay for a week. He took a ferry from Busan to Jeju and a bus to Seogwipo, where the couple and their sons, aged 12 and 14, met him. On the way to their house they stopped at Soesokkak, a popular and picturesque tourist spot on the south coast, and fished from the rocks.

“This has been a different experience,” Evans-Pritchard said. “It’s been more getting to know and getting close with the Korean [hosts]. Now I’m living in their house whereas before we were living in separate accommodations on the other farm [which meant] more bonding between the WWOOFers. Now I’m on my own, so it’s more talking with their children,” he said.

Host Oh said it was for their sons that the couple first joined WWOOF Korea in November 2009. “I joined initially for my children to practice their English, but after a few experiences I really enjoyed it and that is why we kept doing it,” she said.

Evans-Pritchard is the eighth WWOOFer the third-generation farming family has hosted and Oh proudly displayed a scrapbook of photos of their guest workers at scenic spots on Jeju and postcards the family has received after their WWOOFers have moved on.

Program coordinator Jo said there are about 30 farms registered with WWOOF Korea, of which six are located on Jeju. “Compared to Canada or Australia, the organic sector is still small and still new,” she said. “It’s growing, but it’s still beginning.”

The organization acts as a link between the WWOOFers, who agree to work about five or six hours a day, and the WWOOF hosts, who in return provide meals, accommodation and agree to answer questions about their country and organic lifestyle. “WWOOF hosts are not just taking WWOOFers for labor,” Jo said, “they want to have more of a cultural exchange and to show the WWOOFers the area where they live and to share time with them.”

Cultural exchange is an important aspect of the program and the experience of Seoul Farm owner Koh demonstrates how both sides benefit. “At first I was nervous because we didn’t speak good English, but now it is a fun part of our life,” he said. “At first only our oldest son spoke English so while he wasn’t there, it was very quiet. Now Mi Suk speaks some English and I’m learning too.”

Evans-Pritchard also spoke highly of the program. “WWOOF Korea is quite new but it seems like they are really off to a good start,” he said. “People who have done WWOOF in other countries said WWOOF Korea is more personal. You feel less like a laborer and more like family.”

For more information on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms programs in Korea, go to koreawwoof.com.

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