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Monday, December 27, 2010

Young Photographer Captures Timeless Moments on Jeju

Top: Bethany Carlson's striking image of fellow English-language teacher Rachael Darden demonstrates the photographer's use of landscape in her portraiture. Photo by Bethany Carlson.

Center: Jenie Hahn, a lecturer at Jeju National University and the host of Arirang Radio's "All That Jeju" program, is one of many Jeju residents Carlson has photographed. Photo by Bethany Carlson

Carlson is equally at ease on either side of the camera. Photo by Angela Jacobus

Jeju Island, South Korea, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- Like many other young teachers of English in South Korea, Bethany Carlson came to the country partly out of a desire for travel and partly to pay off debt.

The country was, in fact, her second choice, but her recruiter recommended it over Japan as a better fit for her in terms of lifestyle and compensation. The 25-year-old has no regrets.

"Coming to Korea was one of the best decisions I have ever made," she said.

Carlson arrived on Jeju, an island-province off the Korean Peninsula's southern coast, in February 2010 to work for the English Program in Korea, a state-run initiative to expose children in public schools to native English-speaking teachers.

But it is for her leisure-time activity of photography that she is becoming best known, with residents and visitors to the island lining up to have her shoot their portraits. The resulting portfolio can be seen on her Bethany Carlson Photography Facebook page and on her blog at

A self-described "Air Force brat," Carlson was born in Hawaii but has lived in Oklahoma, California, Colorado and Ohio, and now considers San Diego her hometown. When she decided to work in Korea, Jeju was her first choice, thanks to research done by a friend who had initially planned to accompany her.

"She said, 'When you request, request for Jeju. That's the beach area and it's so nice.' I put it on my application and I got it," Carlson said.

Her photography shows the beauty of the island and captures the personalities of her portrait subjects. Jeju being a relatively small community, almost all here know many of Carlson's models.

The photographer puts her subjects instantly at ease and captures the essence of each individual vividly.

She says she is not a landscape photographer and seemed surprised when it was pointed out that the unique Jeju backdrop is a secondary subject in much of her work.

"When I say I don't do landscapes, I mean I can't look at a hill and be inspired," she said. "But a hill and person -- then I'm inspired!"

Although Carlson has loved photography since childhood, it was only after buying a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera in April that she got seriously involved in taking pictures.

Her interest in portraiture came almost by accident, when she wanted to repay a favor done for her by another English-speaking native speaker in Korea, Jack Quinn.

Quinn asked her to take some photos for his grandmother at home in the United States. Other friends asked her to photograph them, then their friends and "word of mouth spread around the island."

She now spends every weekend photographing and has shot subjects from "five continents and 13 countries." Apart from a two-week "Bethany-time" period before she is scheduled to leave Korea in February 2011, Carlson is booked solid with people wanting her to photograph them before she goes.

"It's been amazing that I've been able to have a job that brings in money while I do this and try to learn and go through the rough patches of trying to figure out what type of photographer I am and what my niche is," she said. "Korea gave me the time, resources, inspiration and desire to take my hobby to the next level."

She said she uses three words to best represent her individual photographic style; "The first is audacious -- I really want each photo to be bold in some way. Then, genuine -- I try to keep it genuine and do as little editing as possible."

Her third keyword is "timeless," she said. "I love that I can capture a person at a particular moment in time and bring out where they are at that moment."

Her year on Jeju has been one in which she has pushed herself the hardest she ever has, she said, even apart from photography. "God showed me more of myself and I have learned to appreciate who I am as a woman, a Christian, a traveler, a professional and an American."

When she returns "from the chaos of Korea to the chaos of America," she will be "starting from scratch" materially, with no "car, house, job, license, insurance or anything."

What she will have is the portfolio she has built while here and a goal to make her living as a photographer, specializing in couple and boudoir portraiture. She does not rule out returning to Korea some day, especially if visa conditions change to allow English teachers to work in secondary fields.

"I never want to go back to an office job again," she said. "That's my goal in life."

From the quality of her work and the enthusiastic response from her subjects, their friends and her followers, it seems a goal she will be able to achieve.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ancient craft carried forward on Jeju Island

SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- A common sight outside older homes throughout Korea is of at least one persimmon tree, its gold-red fruit a tasty marker of the onset of colder days.

On Jeju Island, the semi-tropical resort located off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, these trees are not only a source of nutrition but for centuries, their unripe fruit has been used to strengthen and color residents' clothing, called galot.

Fashion designer Yang Soon-ja has modernized traditional galot clothing with her Monsengee label, while also revitalizing the traditional craft for local women whose own mothers may not have learned the dyeing process.

Galot is clothing that is dyed with the juice of unripe persimmons and is the traditional workday clothing of Jeju farmers and fishers.

Prof. Kwon Sook-hee of Jeju National University's Department of Clothing and Textiles said the "gal" portion of the name comes from the Chinese character for leather and refers to the resilient nature of the fabric. The practice is believed to have started in the 15th century during the Choseon Dynasty.

There are no confirmed records of how the dyeing process was discovered but it is believed it may have been accidental, as residents noticed that persimmon juice spilled on their clothing not only left a permanent stain but strengthened the fabric. It was later discovered to have other useful traits.

"Galot has a lot of functions," Monsengee's Yang said. "It blocks more than 90 percent of the sun's rays." It also absorbs sweat without smelling and acts as a natural insect repellent, making it ideal for Jeju's climate and traditional rural community.

A native of a small Jeju village, Yang recalls watching her grandmother and other villagers working their land dressed in bright yellow galot.

Like many older Jeju residents, Yang learned the technique through watching.

"I learned from old ladies on Jeju many years ago," she said. "While I was a little girl growing up, I watched my mother doing it."

Yang studied fashion and design at the Kukje Fashion Design Institute and La Salle College of the Arts, both in Seoul, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

"I graduated from high school and the same day I went to Seoul," she said. "While I was out, I stayed in Seoul and New York. I came back 37 years after I left. This is my hometown."

Yang established her company in 1996, naming it Monsengee for the Jeju pony, and merged the fashion aesthetic she learned in Seoul and New York with the traditions of her home island. She returned to Jeju permanently in 2002 and now harvests her own trees, using the fruit to color a range of fabrics for her high-end garments.

The colors require sunlight to develop and set and Yang achieves color variations by redyeing and adding natural substances to the persimmon juice.

Yang, who won the the title of Grand Master of Galot in 2006, said that when she dies, the title will die with her, as no one else can do what she does. She was also elected as president of Jeju's Tourism and Handcrafts Corporation in September but does not allow her added duties to keep her from passing her craft onto younger residents.

"I teach people in the local jail," she said, "so that when they get out, they know a skill and can get a job."

She also teaches classes for local residents each week, including a class for disabled people.

Yang said she teaches because she wants to share her "sense of craft" with the younger generation.

"The present generation is only concerned with learning skills by rote," she said. "I want to impart to them the importance of creativity and freedom that has made me what I am today."

In doing so, she hopes to nurture more talent on Jeju in what is a unique craft and to raise the general level of artisans on the island. At least one of her students hopes, in turn, to pass the skills she learns to others.

"When I first came here I was more interested in the sewing but since I have been here, I have become more interested in the dyeing," said Yoon Sung-sook, a Jeju woman who has studied with Yang five days a week for the past two months.

Yoon hopes to pass the traditional technique to newcomers to the island. As in much of rural Korea, many of the local farmers have married women from overseas as young Korean women moved to the cities for education and careers.

"One of my motivations in learning how to do this is that I thought of opening a welfare center for migrant women," Yoon said. "I wanted to teach them a useful skill and perhaps connect them with Monsengee as workers later on."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jeju Sowing Seeds of International Education

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- As tree leaves change color and tangerine growers harvest their golden crops, Jeju Island is gearing up to market what may be its most ambitious project yet with a recruitment road show for prospective students for its pioneering global education city.

The Jeju Global Education City is a government-funded, purpose-built city focused totally on education. With the exception of classes on Korean language and history taught in Korean, all instruction, as well as all commerce, will be conducted in English.

By 2015, if all goes as planned, about a dozen international schools will open branch campuses in the 900 acres of land. North London Collegiate, consistently ranked the top U.K. international baccalaureate school, became the first official partner of the city in March.

Construction is under way on the British campus, and the school plans to open in September 2011, catering ultimately to 1,400 students. A similarly prestigious Canadian school, Branksome Hall, will start construction early next year, with its opening planned for September 2012.

"It's a project that aims to kill two birds with a stone," said Kim Tae-un, a Jeju official involved in the project. "We hope it will keep inside Korea as many children as possible who otherwise might go abroad to study and also attract as much foreign investment as possible."

The project reflects a growing trend in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia where more and more parents are eager to provide their children with Western education, while their governments want to make their countries more attractive to foreign investors.

Christopher Bogden, project manager of the Jeju education city who is collecting air miles around the world as he travels to lure elite Western schools to Jeju, said the plan aims to enroll 9,000 students from elementary through high school when the city is complete. A further university zone is planned to offer English-language courses to the city's teachers and other residents of the island.

By providing Western educational courses at home, the South Korean government is hoping to reduce the number of Korean families who send their children abroad to study, taking enormous amounts of capital with them and often fracturing families.

"It is estimated that over 30,000 Korean families invest in sending one or more of their children overseas for pre-collegiate education," Bogden said. "That's a huge overseas investment."

Assuming minimal transportation costs, Bogden estimates that those families spend $50,000 to $75,000 per child per year. "The government would like to keep not only the children at home but the money at home also," he said.

Jeju-born student Oh Ji-su, who studied at Branksome Hall in Canada from middle school, when she had just turned 13, until she graduated from high school in 2009, testifies to the merits of studying in Western educational environs.

Oh, now 20, who has just begun university studies at the London School of Economics, said she and her mother, art gallery owner Ahn Hye-kyoung, discussed the difference between her education and that of her brother, who stayed in Korea.

"His style of education was enforcing knowledge into the head," she said, noting that Korean students traditionally spend very long hours studying, with much of it being rote learning.

"We were encouraged to have our own viewpoints," Oh said. "It was important to be able to argue, to listen to others and to make your own decisions."

Ahn said it was a difficult decision for her to send her daughter abroad at such a young age but thought that it was worth a try.

"In the beginning, I was always nervous," the mother said. "The first year, she hardly called me, hardly e-mailed me. I just wrote letters and sent books and articles so she wouldn't lose her cultural identity."

Ahn said the relationship between her and her daughter was difficult to maintain, despite her daughter returning home every vacation. She identified the hardest part of sending children abroad to study is the lost opportunities to bond with their families.

"It was actually during my gap year at home when I got to really know my dad and be close to him," Oh said.

For many families, the social impact is more drastic as many mothers accompany their young children overseas, leaving the fathers behind to earn money to support their distant families.

Koreans commonly refer to these lone fathers in bird imagery: eagle fathers have enough money to visit the family at will, geese fathers see their families only when they return at school vacation times and penguin fathers can only pine for their wives and children from afar.

"There's a desire to provide an alternative to that experience here in Korea," Bogden said, citing another reason the Korean government is sponsoring the project. "There's more and more research on the impact on the family of the children and very often the mother going off overseas," he said.

Cases of depression and suicide by the lone fathers have been documented. The government also helps to attract international students from neighboring countries. The recruitment road show will visit cities in Korea and China, including Hong Kong, from late November through early December.

"Jeju itself is within a two-hour flight of 700 million people," Bogden said. "We will be reaching out and looking to recruit children from around Northeast Asia, as well as expat kids, to give the schools a diverse and international student population."

The schools engaged in talks as potential partners charge about $30,000 to $35,000 a year just for tuition and fees, Bogden said. "We are hoping to cost significantly less than that, closer to $25,000."

Ahn estimates that she and her husband had spent 70 million won ($66,000) a year for her daughter to attend Branksome Hall. However, she sees many advantages from her daughter's experience overseas.

"She is much more independent than other Korean kids and I respect that," she said.

She was unsure whether they would have kept Oh at home to study if Branksome Hall had been a part of the Jeju Global Education City at the time.

"If the school could continue its mission in Jeju as it did in Canada, maybe I would have considered it," she said.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Giving Back to Korea

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- When volunteers open the front doors to enter the Second Hand Rose Thrift Shop on Seoul's main U.S. military base three days a week, they are usually greeted by customers waiting, often regulars who help move larger items outside on display.
They're there to browse the rooms of quality used clothing, toys and household goods, knowing there's always merchandise being added from the constant stream of donations left in the bins out back.
What fewer of them know is that their payments are also treated as donations, and passed on to help many of the often-unseen needy throughout Korea.
Second Hand Rose has been active on the U.S. Army's Yongsan Base since 1977. The store itself is only for shoppers with access to the base, but its profits are split evenly between U.S. Forces Korea causes, including scholarships and grants to Korean groups and individuals in need of help.
That amounts to about US$160,000 a year given in grants and scholarships, in addition to a huge amount of surplus goods that are donated directly to those who need them. The store, owned and run by the American Women's Club Thrift Store Association (AWCTSA), is affiliated with the American Women's Club.
Ella Catineau, who has been president and manager of the shop since September last year, said her shop is staffed by volunteers whose numbers fluctuate, particularly over summer when many military members and their spouses relocate. There are also Korean volunteers, with about 40 in late October.
Catineau said an executive board oversees the operations with a welfare committee that handles requests for funds from Korean charities and USFK entities. Chris Rippon, the welfare committee co-chairperson, said that she often visits many of the groups that receive the funds.
"I usually do 'look-sees', as we call them, if it's a new charity that we've never funded before or if it's a new project that we're funding," she said.
She said her husband, an executive with GM Daewoo who often drives her to "look-sees" on the weekend, encourages her, explaining how emotional he becomes whenever he sees those in need.
"He thinks that he's a burly-type guy and that emotions wouldn't get into something like this but seeing the little kids and the babies lying on the floor -- it's really emotional. It's very heart-warming, though, to know that we can help them," she said.
Charities that have received funds from AWCTSA include the Love All Nations homeless church, Myongdo Services for Persons with Learning Disabilities, Emmaus Welfare Center, and the House of Sharing, which provides residential care for Korea's elderly "comfort women" -- survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II.
Hyon O'Brien, an elder of the Love All Nations Church, said the group has received AWCTSA grants twice, totaling $8,000. She also coordinates a weekly pickup of clothing and towels from the thrift shop.
"Many men at the shelter are grateful for the help," she said. "They also feel they are not totally forgotten by society because of AWCTSA."
Emmaus director Noel O'Neill said that although the organization receives funding from the Korean government, "this falls well short of what is needed to provide quality services."
Since 1999, Emmaus has received a total of $4,000 in grants from AWCTSA. That, among other things, has helped to fund a shuttle bus to the center, meet heating costs for a sheltered workshop, and finance a project to assist young mothers who are intellectually handicapped.
"The assistance from AWCTSA has helped us in the maintenance of our centers but more so in being able to take the initiative in beginning new programs," he said.
The beneficiaries of the AWCTSA funds regularly send photos, cards and letters to the thrift shop to thank the many volunteers they don't get to meet in person. Volunteers say they feel rewarded when they are thanked.
"When I first came here, I volunteered because I wanted to do something," Catineau said. "I didn't really realize what we were doing here. Now I understand what we are doing and our mission is to help those really in need. That satisfies me because I'm helping someone."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jeju Teachers Raise Funds for Indian School

Slap guitarist Alex Zimmerman holding the audience's attention at the Little Big Help concert. (Photo by Bethany Carlson)

Concert-girls: From left, Lindsey Lynch and fellow teachers Carolyn Husley, Jenna Collie and Bethany Carlson at the Little Big Help fund-raising concert. Lynch, Carlson and at least one more teacher will travel to Kerala in February, 2011, to deliver donated supplies and volunteer. (Photo by Lee Donghee)

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- When Lindsey Lynch arrived on Jeju Island in March to teach as part of the English Program in Korea, she found well-equipped classrooms with high-tech aids and a focus on long study hours.
Having previously spent a month teaching at a school for underprivileged children in Thailand and several months traveling in India, she was struck by the contrast.
Lynch decided to help less privileged children while educating her students about lives far different from their own on Jeju, a semi-tropical island off the south of Korea that is a favorite with South Korean and Japanese honeymooners.
"I love children and I wanted to do something for children that were underprivileged," said the 30-year-old native of Rochester, New York. "I knew that if I had enough people who also knew about this, I could also get them to help as well."
While in Thailand, Lynch met Lindsay Stoffers, a former teacher on Jeju Island who told her about the Our Home Charity in Kerala, India. Stoffers volunteered at Our Home Orphanage and Good Shepherd School last year and told Lynch about the shortage of the school's supplies.
"In India, the kids were just happy to have a pencil," Lynch said, "and even paper was hard to come by. But here in Korea, we have touch screens and computers and use a lot of media. In India, the teachers have no supplies to teach the kids," Lynch said.
"I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've seen half-used supplies on my classroom floor or in the garbage can," she continued. "I see lunches thrown away."
Lynch started an initiative she called Little Big Help, with "the overall mission to help underprivileged children have a better education and a better quality of life."
She sings with a nine-piece band called Lobster that is made up of foreign teachers and Koreans, and initially planned a small fundraising event.
That concept quickly grew to a concert in early September that also included a traditional Korean percussion group, a Korean ska band, a group of musicians from Senegal, three slam poets and a slap guitarist from Canada.
Local businesses donated raffle prizes, and concert-goers gave more than 1 million won (US$900), which will help the Kerala charity buy school shoes and medication for the 40 orphans it cares for and school supplies.
The second part of the Little Big Help initiative is to teach Jeju students about the school in India and encourage them to donate a pencil.
Lynch prepared educational materials for any teachers wanting to take part, and she and at least two other teachers will travel to Kerala in February to deliver the donated supplies. Students on Jeju are also encouraged to write cards to send to the students in India.
Lynch held a series of lessons for her students after Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. The holiday, which fell in late September, is a time when Koreans hold traditional rites for their deceased ancestors.
At Shinrye Elementary School, where Lynch teaches a total of 72 students, the response was greater than expected, she said.
"One student wanted to give more than one pencil. Another asked, 'Teacher, how will they sharpen their pencils?' and wanted to donate a pencil sharpener."
Lynch knows she is limited by how much she and her colleagues can carry to India themselves, but some of those involved in the project have solved that problem themselves.
Sachin Mahajan, an Indian-born American from Chicago, volunteered with Stoffers at the orphanage in late 2009.
"That was my 10th trip to India," he said. "I've been going since I was young. You see so much poverty, you see so many problems there, and I've always wanted to do something to contribute in some way."
"As a teacher, I thought that this is my chance. Teaching kids in Korea is great, but they're privileged. Any number of people can come here and give them what I can give them, but the kids that we worked with don't have those same opportunities. When we volunteered there, I could tell it was special to them and personally, it was definitely special to me."
Mahajan works for the Wee English Zone hagwon on Jeju, one of the many private teaching institutes that flourish in South Korea.
"We have so much that goes to waste," he said. "I have a box of half-used pencils that nobody wants to touch. The kids in India were using pencils that were down to just a piece of lead."
The hagwon director, Ok Jin-guem, plans to collect supplies for the Indian school around Christmas and pay to ship them there at her own cost.
"Seeing the kids at that school (in India), I know they didn't have pencils, and most of them didn't have something to write in," Mahajan said. "So small things like that will go a long way."
It is for that concept that the initiative was named.
"It's called Little Big Help because even such a little thing as a pencil can be a big help to an orphan who doesn't have anything," Lynch said. "It was the same thing with the donations at the concert. You donate just 1,000 won because that's all you can afford, but it's going to be a big help to someone who really needs it."
Lynch plans to expand the initiative to include Jeju orphanages.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Building With Faith and Family

Oct. 1 (Jeju Weekly) When the first students arrived at the Word of Life Bible Institute, Jeju, on Sept. 16-17, their orientation was likely to include instructions on worksite safety. That is because the 35 students will help in ongoing construction of the island’s first bible school, working for their faith in action as much as word.

The inaugural class of 35 is made up of 11 female and 23 male students, with 15 from North America, 15 from Korea and five from Japan. Dean of the institute, missionary Steve Nicholes, said that six or seven of the students had arrived on Jeju early to become part of the volunteer work team building the facility, trading days of work for later days of tuition in the one-year college-level program. “They’re here to work, to travel and to study,” he said.

Work began on the site after work permits were received in late March and has progressed rapidly as the students, faculty and family members have been joined by volunteers from Korea and the United States, including a group of young U.S. Forces Korea military personnel from Osan Air Base on Korea’s mainland. For Nicholes, fellow missionary John Hawkins and site manager Eugene Webster, the construction has been a family affair with their wives and children working alongside them to build what will be a permanent home for the Nicholes and Hawkins families.

WOLBI, Jeju, is the first teaching site of the international ministry outside of North America, joining campuses in New York, Florida and Canada. An additional school in the Philippines is not college-accredited.

“At our schools, even in New York,” Nicholes said, “the students work eight hours a week and that keeps the costs down.” Each area of work, such as the kitchen or maintenance department has a full-time employee assisted by student workers. “Usually, that would be more maintenance than building,” Nicholes said, but with only three and a half of the planned 11 buildings completed at the Jeju campus, students can expect to work on construction for some time yet. “Over the next two months, visible construction will be going on,” he said. “They’ll study in the morning for four hours and in the afternoon they’ll work for two hours, four days a week.”

The official opening of the teaching site will be postponed until the designated dining facility cum auditorium is completed and until then, teaching will take place in a room in one of the completed dormitory log houses and a building intended to eventually be the maintenance and storage facility will be used as a kitchen.

Construction of the permanent facility has been delayed temporarily as the institute awaits further funding. Financing does not come from a central foundation, Nicholes said, but is given specifically for the project.

“We’re a faith mission, so every month for the last 20 years, we have family, friends and churches in America who send money each month. If it’s individuals, it’ll be twenty, thirty, fifty dollars a month, and it goes to our headquarters in New York and we operate and get our salaries out of that.”

Nicholes first came to Korea in 1988 and was joined by his wife, Rhonda, in 1991, shortly after they married.

Through the mission, they have founded three Schools of Youth Ministries in English, in Gyeonggi province, Japan and Taiwan. “The same people have given every month for over 20 years.”

A church in Seoul that Nicholes helped start, the Cornerstone Community Church, has also supported each project the Nicholes have initiated and its members have supported the institute financially.

Tuition costs for students, excluding those who have labored in return for part payment, are $9,876 a year, which includes food and board, education and guided tours to Thailand and Israel during the 11-month study year. The Thailand trip is intended to expose students, many of whom plan to take up missionary work, to what is involved in the field. “We let them know that this kind of work is not a burden or an obligation or a feeling of, ‘This is what I have to do.’ If you’re gifted and you’re called to do that, it should be enjoyable,” Nicholes said. Although many WOLBI students in the United States are not potential missionaries but have other reasons to want to spend a year studying the bible, a high percentage of those in the Jeju inaugural class do intend to do mission work.

The Israel trip will introduce students to the land of the bible, Nicholes said, with an expert guide who knows the culture as well as the bible sites. “We’re studying all these sites as we go from Genesis to Revelation so we go to those sites and we are able to talk about that.” Nicholes will himself teach bible survey, which he described as a “birds’ eye view” of the entire bible.

During his interview, Nicholes was interrupted constantly by phone calls, of which he later wrote on his Facebook page he had received 66 by 9:05 that evening. Sounds of hammers, drills and saws were a constant on the worksite but, despite the activity, a sense of peace pervaded the land in Aewol. Pines surround and grow throughout the property, including one that grows in the middle of a grassy lawn that will hold a futsal field and other sport areas. The concrete foundation has been laid for the next priority – the dining facility cum auditorium – but Nicholes said $200,000 is needed to purchase all the materials to build that.

Hearing him tell how funding and opportunities have fallen into place for the project thus far, even the most doubting Thomas would have to believe in a divine guiding hand and the existence of miracles. From an unexpected donor who provided almost the precise amount needed to purchase the land to a Jeju-born pastor who helped overcome legal and logistical obstacles on the island through family and alumni contacts, Nicholes believes God is the undisputed driver of the project and will provide what is still needed.

“We don’t want anyone to give out of obligation,” he said. “We just want them to know the need, to be praying for it.” For himself and his team it is considered an investment, Nicholes said. “We’re investing in these students and the people who are donating are giving for that to be accomplished.”

Expanding Jeju's Marine Tourism

Oct. 1 (Jeju Weekly) Jeju needs to formulate a provincial agenda for the cruise industry to take advantage of the rapidly growing Asian market says an expert in the field. Kim Wook Kyun is president of Aju Incentive Tours, which provides tours throughout Korea to cruise line passengers, serving more than 60 percent of all incoming cruise passengers. Aju Incentive Tours has been in business for about 15 years and its other main focus is as a destination management company.

Kim said that for the past 15 years, there has been continuous growth in the cruise industry globally of about 7 percent per year. “Even though there were some difficult periods like the Gulf War or the oil crisis, they were temporary problems and in the long term there was always growth.”

The industry currently caters to about 20 million passengers each year worldwide, Kim said. Of these, more than 60 percent come from North America, while Europeans are the next largest sector, at around 5 million passengers. South America and Asia each provide about 1 million passengers. However, Kim said, that figure accounts for 3.5 to 3.9 percent penetration of Europe’s residents whereas in Asia it is less than 0.05 percent.

Kim attended the Seatrade All Asia Cruise Convention in Suzhou, near Shanghai, in June, where the huge potential market was discussed. “The consensus was that the market [in Asia] will reach 5 million in 2020,” he said. “The market will in 10 years be bigger than in Europe.”

The future of Jeju tourism should be based on marine tourism, Kim said, and the cruise industry is an important part of that as an extremely fast-growing segment of the tourism business. The key drivers for future growth of the industry would be government support and the required infrastructure to accommodate ships. He said the Chinese government had recently eased cabotage restrictions, which previously allowed foreign-flagged ships to call at only one Chinese port each trip, in order to encourage more passengers to visit there. In Korea, the government has begun dispatching immigration officials to the port prior to a ship’s arrival here so that passengers can be processed while still at sea.

“Most Asian ports are now expanding and constructing new cruise terminals,” he said.

Asian countries need to cooperate to grow the cruise business in the region, Kim said, and individual ports need to collaborate also. “Jeju should promote Busan and other ports also. Our first aim is to bring ships to the region, not to Jeju only. We have to promote the region.”

Currently, the turnaround ports for cruise ships in Northeast Asia, where passengers join and leave cruises, are Hong Kong, Shanghai and Kobe, Kim said. Moving a turnaround port to Busan would have huge value for Korea. “Right now, we just have eight hours [while passengers are in port] but if we have a turnaround port, there will be huge business opportunities created,” he said.

“Busan is better positioned as a turnaround than Jeju because of the population and better transportation access, but if Busan became a turnaround port then Jeju and all other ports would benefit also.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

500 Generals Gallery

Sept. 18 (Jeju Weekly) A passing rainstorm at the commencement of opening celebrations for the Obaekjanggun (500 Generals) Gallery on Sept. 9 failed to dampen spirits. Members of the traditional Folk Culture Group from the Seoul Institute of the Arts had a wet start to the day of entertainment but the skies quickly cleared, allowing guests to enjoy the Bongsan mask dance and a white tiger mask dance in comfort before the official speeches.

The gallery is the latest stage to open at Jeju Stone Park, an ecological culture park on more than 300 hectares of land at Gyorae-ri in Jocheon. The park’s main theme is based on the legend of Seolmundae Halmang, the giant goddess credited with creating Jeju Island, and her sons, known in local mythology as the 500 generals.

One legend of Seolmundae Halmang tells that when her sons were out hunting, she made a cauldron of soup for their return but accidentally fell into the pot and died. The sons, oblivious to this, returned hungry and ate the soup, only realizing when the youngest son saw her bones at the bottom of the pot that they had eaten their own mother.

He wept bitterly and went to the west of Jeju where he turned into a solitary stone just off the coast known as Oedeolgae, or the Lone Stone. The other brothers also turned to stone on Mt. Halla and formed rock columns on Halla’s Yeongsil Trail called the Obaekjanggun. It is for them that the gallery is named.

Park founder and director Baek Un Chol first learned the legend more than 40 years ago and it has remained with him throughout his education, military service on Korea’s mainland and his return to Jeju. He said Jeju Stone Park had taken 40 years for him to conceive but he felt it had been part of him from a previous life. “I believe I was born for this project,” he said. “My entire life and Jeju Stone Park has been dedicated to actualizing this myth in concrete form.”

Construction of the gallery began in July 2006 and has cost more than 18 billion won. (Financing for the park has come equally from the national and Jeju provincial governments, Baek said.) The three-story building has an area of 6,830 square meters (larger than an American football field) and includes space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, a state-of-the-art performance hall and a cafeteria.

Jeju Stone Park has been created using five primary materials – stone, soil, trees, iron and water – and these are also the themes of the permanent and inaugural exhibitions. The permanent exhibition comprises the roots and remnants of Jeju’s Jorok tree, which Baek said is unique because it burns at very high temperatures and only grows at altitudes higher than 700 meters above sea level. Trees are also the origin of Lee Eun Hee’s preferred material.

The Jeju-born artist uses paper to create her works, and said the theme of her exhibition in the Obaek-janggun Gallery is “the co-existence of human beings going back to our origins.” Her pieces illustrate a cycle of rebirth merging into deep forest imagery, before humankind leaves the forest to go to heaven. “My mindset during the creation of these artworks was the desperate devotion contained within the Seolmun-dae Halmang myth,” she said.

Kang Tae Kil’s exhibit represents stone in a series of photographs of Jeju. The artist settled on the island in 1986 and writes that photographing the stones, hills (oreum) and forests of Jeju was “a process of finding out the layers of my life.” Media artist Kim Hyung Soo portrays water in projected images of the sea, running water, carp and dance movements, both in video and computer graphics. Lee Seung Soo’s material and theme is iron but his subject matter also embraces the importance of the sea to Jeju life. A bronze sculpture of a haenyeo (diving woman) stands on a stone in one corner of the room as iron mesh sculptures of her colleagues hang suspended from the ceiling, appearing to swim through the space. Ko Won Jong’s ceramic pieces complete the thematic quintet, as the artist uses soil, in this case clay, as his medium.

Despite Jeju Stone Park’s firm place on the tour map of the island, director Baek is adamant that it is not a tourist attraction. “The main purpose of this park is to preserve and display Jeju’s traditional culture and hand it down to descendants,” he said. “People cannot move forward without knowing their history or their culture. In order for Korea to move forward, there is a need for us to understand our culture and history.” The gallery is an important part of this process, he said, and is the only such venue on the east side of the Jeju Island.

Still to be built at Jeju Stone Park, Baek said, is the Seolmundae Halmang Auditorium, for which construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next year and be completed in 2020. That is also the year that Baek’s contract to oversee the park will end, but he has no intention of leaving. “I plan to work as a janitor here after that,” he said. “I will die here.”

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building Friendships, Building Peace

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- Muscles ripple as young arms shovel cement and sand into a cone and form a crater in its center, unconsciously mimicking the volcanic peaks that dot the landscape of Jeju, a semi-tropical honeymoon island off South Korea's south coast.
The scorching sun is beating down upon a group of university students, now working as manual laborers. One girl pours water into the crater and the group begins to mix concrete by hand, sweat dripping from them as they laugh and joke in a mixture of Korean, Russian, English and gesture. Elsewhere on the site, others manhandle huge pieces of Jeju basalt into place to form a seating area.
Most of the students from seven countries that edge the Pacific Ocean met only several weeks earlier, when they arrived in South Korea to build the sixth Pacific Rim Park (PRP) on the coastline of Jeju.
"We really build our friendships on what we share, not on what we disagree on," James Hubble, the founder and artistic director of the PRP project, said in a speech during a recent dedication ceremony. Dignitaries who attended the ceremony included Jeju Gov. Woo Keun-min and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens.
The Jeju park is the sixth PRP project. Japan is the only country represented that does not yet have a park, but it's likely the next host wiil be Peru or Nicaragua. Sister parks sit on the shorelines of Russia, the United States, China, Mexico and the Philippines. Organizers want one park in each nation that borders the Pacific.
A pearl was a major feature in the first park, built in Vladivostok in 1994 "when Gorbachev was opening up Russia," Hubble said.
Hubble said he had formed a friendship with Gennady Turmov, president of Vladivostok's Far Eastern State Technical University, while in the country on an artist exchange and the two decided to create a park near the university.
Students from the United States and one from Mexico labored side by side with their Russian counterparts in a team effort few would have imagined even a decade earlier.
That stand-alone project grew into the PRP Project, which was established in 1995 as a non-profit corporation based in San Diego, where the second park was built in 1998. Financing for the parks is obtained through sponsorship and fundraising activities.
Prof. Koh Seong Joon of Jeju National University, who worked with PRP on the Korean project, said Jeju island was suggested as an ideal site for a Pacific Rim Park about two years ago and the preparation process and fundraising began shortly after.
He lauded the PRP project, saying that it helps build connections between cultures, many of whom have a long history of conflict. The university provided housing for the students, who only had to pay their travel costs. Organizers said about 80 percent of each park is funded by the home country, with the remainder provided by the project.
Each park is designed by the participating students so all differ in design, but they are united by a stylized pearl placed in each. The symbolism of the pearl, the organizers said, is of something that promotes harmony.
The Jeju park is about one-third the size of a football field and is the largest of the Pacific Rim Parks to date, Koh said, describing it as an area for reflection rather than play. Its pearl focus is located in the center of a semi-circular seating area that faces out to the Pacific Ocean.
Another feature of the park is an ascending spiral that leads to a grandmother sculpture, which represents both Seolmundae Halmang - the giant goddess that local legend credits with creating Jeju Island - and the strong women the province is also famous for.
Though on a coastal road, the site is relatively isolated but its location on "olle" trails guarantees frequent visitors. The trails are hundreds of kilometers of interconnecting walking paths on Jeju that have proven popular to visitors.
Sixteen years after it began, the PRP project continues to expand and connect Pacific communities. Much has changed in the interim and for most of the students working on Jeju's park, named "Stepping Stones of the Pacific," former enmities are simply historical footnotes.
Aleksandr Motorina, a 23-year-old student from Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok, expressed excitement about the project, saying that she also worked on the Philippine park with similar excitement and has visited her hometown's sister city of San Diego. She said she can't remember the time Russia and America were enemies.
"I was only three," she said. "I only know what my parents told me about from the past and some little, little memories."
For her, she said, the parks are not just construction projects but "about people, and feelings and the experience of connecting."
Although few of the students have personal memories of any conflict with their Pacific neighbors, Jeju bears its own scars. Military caves and tunnels in the cliffs and an adjacent disused airfield stand testament to the occupation of the island by Japan during World War II.
The students all spoke of the sense of community and family they now had with former strangers from other lands and how that will stay with them wherever they go.
"This is something that is not going to stop," said one of the students, Garrett Goodwin, 27, from San Diego. "It's a symbol of peace. It's a symbol of dedication and creativity through actions, through bridging the gap between the language barriers that we have and trying to understand each other just by working together."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dive Right In - The Water's Fine

Seojeonbang Falls
Oedolgae pool

Aug. 29 (Jeju Weekly) Jeju Island is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches for swimming. From Hyeopjae and adjoining Geumneung Beaches in the west to Pyoseon or Shinyang Beaches in the east, you’ll find stretches of sand of every color possible on the shoreline of the island. What better way to cool off from the scorching summer temperatures than wading in the shallows or diving into the depths? In addition to the beaches, there are also valley streams and waterfalls to soak the summer days away.

These are some of my favorite Jeju swimming spots, some well-known, others less so.

Hamdeok Seowubong Beach
Hamdeok Beach is one of the best-known and most popular on the island. It is actually two adjoining beaches separated by a sand spit. The main, western beach seems a favorite with Korean visitors while the smaller, eastern cove is more popular with foreign residents and has a comfortable camping area. Adjacent to the smaller beach is Seowubong – the peak that is now part of the tourist spot’s extended name. A perfect way to start a day on Jeju is to climb to the summit and enjoy the views, then descend and cool off with a dip in the clear blue water.

Samyang Black Sand Beach
Samyang is a particular favorite for Koreans who go there to be buried in the hot, black sand, which they believe has therapeutic properties. My alternative therapy is to first walk nearby Wondangbong and enjoy the extensive views it offers before heading to the beach. There are three temples on the hill, one of which – Wondangsa – is home to the Bultapsa Five-Story Stone Pagoda.

Samyang Beach also offers consistently good sunsets for those wanting to make their Facebook friends envious.

Donnaeko Resort
The Donnaeko Trail is the newest path to the top of Mt. Halla for many hikers, having reopened last year after a 15-year hiatus to allow the regeneration of foliage. For those who think a seven-hour round trip to the top is too much to contemplate in this heat, the Donnaeko Resort is a cooler option. Just a short way off the 1131 or 5.16 Road, Donnaeko has clean, ice-cold water cascading down falls and tumbling over rocks just a short walk into dense evergreen forest.

The small pond just below the Wonang Pokpo Waterfall is usually crowded with visitors but if you take the time to scamper over rocks, either up or downstream, you should be rewarded with the discovery of an area of relative solitude. Or perhaps you’ll instead trip over a group of locals male-bonding over beer and makgeolli who would be happy to share with a passing stranger!

The Soesokkak estuary is a deep-water pool where fresh water from the Hyo-donchon stream flows into the ocean. Lined with lava cliffs and fragrant pine forests, visitors can rent clear-bottomed canoes or ride a large tewoo raft across the still waters. The village feels like a true resort town, rather than the Korean version, with coffee shops that sell reasonably tasteful souvenirs and have a relaxed seaside ambience.

The only surprise I found on the hot day that I visited was that although many people were wading in the shallows in both the estuary and the beach, I was the only one swimming. Don’t let that stop you though as the pool is perfect for a sheltered dip.

Sojeonbang and Jeonbang Waterfalls
Sojeonbang Waterfall does not have a pool in which you can immerse yourself, unlike its more impressive neighbor, Jeongbang Waterfall, but is popular with locals for the water massage you can get while standing beneath its natural shower. Or head a little further west to Jeongbang for a cooling dip and more postcard-perfect picture opportunities.

Oedolgae pool
I’m slightly reluctant to share this spot with readers as it is one of my all-time favorites, yet remains relatively unknown. Oedolgae itself is both a well-known film location and a popular stop for tourists to the island. The solitary rock pillar is an impressive site, particularly with its backdrop of islands just off the coast. However, immediately east of the tour “must-see” is a large, lesser-known pool enclosed on three sides by cliff and rocks with a man-made concrete fourth wall.

The water here is deep and clear and some brave souls dive in from the cliff above. A shallower adjacent pool is perfect for children, making this the perfect spot for family outings. From the water and surrounding rocks, you have a great view of the bridge to Saeseom further east. The pools can be reached by descending a path and steps that begin east of the Oedolgae parking spot and opposite where the tour buses park.

Global Traveler

Aug. 29 (Jeju Weekly) Wong Oi Ling, known as Ailing to English speakers, is a veteran of traveling on a tight budget. The Malay journalist and travel writer has published two travel books – “You Can Never Be Too Poor to Travel” and “It’s Tough But I Made It!” The second is the tale of her journey by bus from Malaysia up to Egypt. “I love cross country,” she said. “I spent 10 months in South America, traveling only by bus.”

She speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and Korean, and what she calls “survival” Italian and Spanish. “Before it was good but as time goes by, you don’t use them.”

She first came to Korea in 1999 “just to travel for a month” but was unable to speak the language. She returned in 2003 and still couldn’t speak Korean but could understand some. She lived here “on and off” in 2006 and learned the language from friends and fellow travelers.

Having traveled in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and South America (“There are still many places I have not been to,” she said), Ailing has now made Jeju Island her base, opening the Island Guest House in the village of Inseong-ri in October 2009. Her Korean business partner is a fellow traveler she met in Brazil.

The guest house, like Ailing herself, is unique and quirky and she has decorated it with mementos of her many travels. Shelves display sand, shells and stones from around the world and the bathroom door is studded with coins of many currencies. Ailing has a knack of making visitors feel instantly at home, a feeling that is no doubt helped each morning when they wake to freshly baked bread for breakfast.

Ailing is also a regular guest on the Arirang Radio show “All That Jeju” and in a Friday night segment called “Who’s in the House” discusses recent or current guests at Island Guest House.

She first came to Jeju in 2006 after being given a ticket for taking part in a foreigner talent show on the mainland.

“It’s like New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia,” she said. “I grew up in Borneo and we have many beautiful beaches there as well.”

But although she has chosen to base herself on the island, albeit with frequent trips further afield, Ailing sees many areas where Jeju could improve drastically to better cater to foreign tourists. The most important is to have more signs in English, she believes. “The transport system is really bad. They really need a lot of English signs for the buses. Especially for a village like this, where we don’t even have bus numbers.”

With a clientele of mainly backpackers and campers, Ailing said most use public transport but that bus services stop early on Jeju and her guests are stuck trying to find their way home. “Taxi drivers sometimes call me at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

She feels Jeju residents are careless with the island’s environment also. “In my village, everyone burns their rubbish. I hate that.” She separates her own trash for recycling, “But I’m not sure, when I separate the rubbish, what they will do with it.”

Her guest house is at the end of Olle trail 10 and many of her guests spend time walking, after which they see a different Jeju, she said. However, even there she sees a danger of harming the very beauty people are drawn to the Olle trails to see.

“You need to promote, which means you need to develop more,” she said. “It’s so hard to keep a balance.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Natural Healers

Aug. 17 (Jeju Weekly) Many of those who move to Jeju Island from Korea’s mainland come in search of a healthier, more natural existence and in that respect, Hyun Sol and her husband, Hong Ji Hwan are no different. What does set the couple apart, however, is that their business, a holistic healing center, exists to share that natural, healthy lifestyle with others.

The couple moved to Jeju in August 2009 and into a traditional cottage in Hamdeok that is about 90 years old and formerly belonged to Hyun’s grandmother. “Hyun Sol lived here when she was in kindergarten,” Hong said. The original home had no toilet or kitchen and both were priorities when Hong started remodeling shortly after they moved in. They had to take care of such basic needs elsewhere for their first three months on the island, but Hong said that through such inconveniences, they are learning to be grateful every day for what they have.

A front room of the cottage opens directly off Hamdeok’s main street and houses a small shop where Hyun makes and sells natural soaps, shampoos, lotions and herbal remedies. The cool, pleasantly scented interior is an oasis of calm from the heat and a peaceful haven for locals and summer visitors alike. A rear section on which Hong is still constructing will be the center’s therapy rooms when completed, offering massage, sound therapy, aromatherapy and Ayurvedic therapy, among other health-enhancing options. The couple owned a similar healing center in Seoul but found that the stressors of big city life interfered with their practice. “We wanted to concentrate on just one person at a time but the financial pressures of rent and such prevented that,” Hong said. “The clock of Seoul people ticks very quickly but in Jeju, time slows down.”

The slower pace of the island is echoed in Hong’s building schedule and he says it will be another three or four months before the therapy center is completed. “We came here to rest,” he said, “not to rush anything.” As he works, he saves each piece of the house to be re-used or recycled in some way.

He wants to pass on that sense of relaxation to patients, including many regulars from Seoul who plan to visit Jeju. “I hope the healing center will be a place for people to visit and slow down, but in Seoul that was very difficult.” They have found that “island time” has benefited their individual skills also.

“In Seoul, I only may have known the surface level of this field,” Hong said, “but now I fully understand the core that I spent lots of money trying to understand in Seoul. I now know it naturally.”

“I’ve treated others for more than 10 years,” Hyun said. “Coming to Jeju was treatment for myself.”

She and Hong have a thriving herb garden in their yard that is guarded by a dog they rescued, plus a 200-pyeong (661-square-meter) farm elsewhere planted in organic herbs and vegetables. You’re as likely to find either of them in the garden as in the store if you visit, but Hyun will happily take as much time as is needed to match a soap to each customer’s skin type and condition, or create a custom herbal mix while you relax. The couple’s stated desire to concentrate on just one person at a time is apparent in all they do and this writer looks forward to when they open the full therapy center.

In their own time, of course.

Monday, August 16, 2010

From the Ground Up

Aug. 16 (Jeju Weekly) A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Aug. 4 at the site of North London Collegiate School Jeju — the first foreign school that will open in Jeju Global Education City. NLCS signed the contract for its Jeju campus in March, on the 160th anniversary of its founding. The prestigious girls-only institution has consistently been ranked the U.K.’s top International Baccalaureate School.

The education city is a government-led national project overseen by the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs. Vice Minister Kwon Do Youp spoke at the ceremony of the importance of JGEC to Korea in economic, educational and social terms. Every year Korean families spend more than $1 billion to educate students abroad, draining capital from the country and creating social problems by separating families for long periods of time. It is hoped that JGEC will not only allow local students to study at an international level within Korea, but that it will draw foreign students from Japan, China and elsewhere.

Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min and National Assemblyman Kim Woo Nam were among the many dignitaries present at the ceremony. Helen Stone, chairwoman of NLCS; Claire Froomberg, director of NLCS Enterprises; and Peter Daly, headmaster designate of NLCS Jeju represented the U.K. school. Representatives of Canada’s Branksome Hall, which plans to open its Jeju campus in September 2012, also attended.

The London school is girls-only but NLCS Jeju will include boys, although classes will be mainly single gender between the ages of 10 to 16. The school aims to cater to 1,400 students, with 568 places available in its inaugural 2011 academic year. Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities will be an integral part of the school program and student exchanges are planned between the London and Jeju campuses. Both Korean national and NLCS diplomas will be awarded, allowing students the option of continuing their studies in Korea or abroad.

Planned facilities include a performing arts center, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, dining hall and student residences.

In her speech, Stone spoke of her own education at NLCS and said it gave her the confidence to pursue a career in civil engineering, a highly unusual choice for a young woman at the time.

In an interview the following day, Stone said she first came to Jeju in October 2008 on an exploratory visit and was excited to be involved in the JGEC project.

“We were very impressed indeed with the presentations that Jeju made to us,” she said. “They described the concept of the Global Education City and we just felt that this was something that we would like to be involved with. It sounded incredibly ambitious but the more we looked into the project, the more realistic it became. We did various explorations and had a lot of discussions in London and looked carefully at the project but we felt convinced that this was the place we would like to come to, so here we are at this stage having done our ground-breaking ceremony and construction is underway.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Introducing the Principal

Aug. 13 (Jeju Weekly) The principal-designate of North London Collegiate School Jeju brings a wealth of international experience to the position, although he is a newcomer to Korea and Asia. Peter Daly is currently at Dubai English Speaking College in Dubai where, as founding head teacher of the secondary school for the past five years, he has helped the college become one of the highest achieving schools in the region. Prior to that, he was head of the senior school at St. Christopher’s School in Bahrain, which is a British international school that caters to 1,700 students.

Daly and his wife, Sue, visited Jeju Island for the NLCS ground-breaking ceremony on Aug. 4 at the Daejeong-eup site and the next day he explained his reasons for pursuing the job founding the first international school to open in the Jeju Global Education City. He had a personal connection to NLCS while teaching at Sacred Heart High School in London, where he was initially head of the history department before becoming assistant head then deputy head. He said NLCS itself was the primary attraction for him.

“North London Collegiate has got a superb reputation in the U.K.,” he said. “It was always one of the most recognized schools in London for the quality of the academic education but also for all the other aspects that it offered.”

The second factor in his decision was the involvement of the Jeju Free International City Development Center (JDC) in the ambitious project. “When you looked at what they had on their Web site and associated materials that were sent, it seemed to be very well organized and professional – a very far-thinking group,” he said. “Very impressive. Often when looking overseas, when you get behind what some schools are offering, there’s not much substance, but there certainly was with this one.”

“This is a quality organization and it’s their first venture into it. I just thought it very exciting. This is new, this is different. If you went with one of the others, it’s all a bit ‘they’ve done it before, they’ve seen it before,’ whereas with this there’s a difference, there’s a uniqueness about it.”

Relocating was also a positive for Daly and his wife. “After five years [at DESC], I was planning to go to Southeast Asia or the Far East anyway. We had decided that, so this was just the perfect job.”

Daly first came to Jeju for an interview in June and signed a contract in mid-July. He said the island is “a lovely place to educate children.”

“Jeju Island attracted me. I wasn’t too keen to go to one of the big Asian cities. I know a lot of the Brit schools have gone into the cities but I wasn’t so keen on that.

“It’s a beautiful island. It’s a really nice place to live. It’s got lots of things to do and seems a very healthy climate. That was important to me. I lived in London for 15 years and I didn’t realize until I left how much it was possibly affecting my health.”

He has given six months notice at DESC but hopes to be able to leave earlier as there is much to do before NLCS Jeju is scheduled to open in September 2011. His experience in Dubai, where he was involved in the design and construction of the school and oversaw all staff appointments and student admissions will stand him in good stead. Fifty to 60 teachers will be needed at the campus, with recruitment taking place in the U.K. and internationally. Daly also plans to be heavily involved in student selection. “I’ve always been very hands-on on admissions in terms of interviews with parents, meeting children, looking at test scores, looking at suitability for the school,” he said.

There are many other aspects involved in establishing a school, “from uniforms to resource orders” and Daly welcomed the role JDC will play in smoothing the way. “In terms of ministry permissions, it’s great to have JDC supporting us because they can obviously do a lot of that work which I’ve previously had to do myself,” he said.

NLCS Jeju will base its curriculum on the model that has resulted in the parent school consistently being ranked the U.K.’s top International Baccalaureate school, with a high percentage of graduates accepted to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This will include a focus on co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, he said. “We feel that we not only develop highly academic and high-achieving and high-attaining students, but we also develop students who have a variety of other skills, which is so important in this day and age.”

The Jeju school will not “in any way … go down the cramming route or the view that students should be working till midnight or be constantly at their studies,” Daly said. “We believe there is a time that they should be pursuing other things.” A “too-staid curriculum that is focused entirely on knowledge retention” and rote learning is not enough to survive and compete in an increasingly globalized environment, he said.

“The thing about North London is you see students who have high self-esteem and are very self-confident – people who are able to express their ideas and are able to analyze. People who can interpret, people who can communicate expertly to a range of audiences. I do believe that they’re the skills that people are going to need, not just in the employment world but in the whole satisfaction of life.”

“One of the big things about North London is that it believes that every student, every child, has a strength, has some sort of forte at which they can develop and it’s a matter of finding that through all the different activities we can provide. And that’s another thing about Jeju is that it seem the perfect place to do it because there are so many other things you can do here in terms of recreational activities and sports. So that’s our mission, that’s our vision.”

Pacific Rim Park, Jeju

Aug. 13 (Jeju Weekly) Seafarers and historians alike know the Pacific Ocean frequently fails to live up to its tranquil name. Sailors on its surface often encounter storms and its waters and surrounding land masses have borne witness to many conflicts and the loss of countless lives. The Pacific Rim Park Project hopes to foster understanding and goodwill in the region through the creation of friendship parks, the sixth of which, named “The Stepping Stones of the Pacific,” was completed on Jeju Island in early August.

During an intensive one-month class, students from Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the Philippines, the United States and Mexico designed and constructed the park under the guidance of PRP founder and president/artistic director James Hubble and PRP president Kyle Bergman. The first park was built in Vladisvostok, Russia, in 1994, followed by parks in San Diego, U.S.A. (1998); Yantai, China (2001); Tijuana, Mexico (2004); and Puerto Princesa, Philippines (2009). “Now we hope to do 41 in total,” Bergman said. “One in each country and every island nation that touch the Pacific. We think it’s kind of a 50-year art project.” “More like 250!” Hubble interjected.

The park in Sangmo village sits on the edge of the ocean just west of Songaksan and adjoining Alddreu Airfield, which was built by the Japanese in the 1930s during their occupation of Jeju. Koh Seong Joon, a professor of politics at Jeju National University, worked with PRP and the Jeju provincial government on the project in his role as chairman of the Jeju International Council.

He said the area is historically significant because of the legacy of Alddreu Airfield, much of which was built with the forced labor of Jeju residents, and other events. It was a site of slaughter during the April 3 Uprising, used as a training center for Korean soldiers during the Korean War and also housed prisoners of war from the Chinese Red Army.

Yet many of the working students on the park came from countries that were in conflict in the past, he said. “For example, to build the park in Vladivostok, Russian and American students worked together in harmony.

“It takes about a month to get done, in which they work together, room together, eat together and form a community with a shared sense of achievement.”

Bergman said the intensity was an important part of the process, which seeks to build community at three levels. One is on a regional scale: “We try to make these connections around the Pacific, ultimately trying to change the myth of a Ring of Fire to a String of Pearls.”

The pearl element was built into the first park and has been added to each subsequent park design. Russia and America had difficult political relationships at the time and the students from both countries were surprised at how many similarities they found with each other, Bergman said. “So the pearl has a lot of significance, it’s connected to the ocean. It started out as the idea of something that started as a point of irritation but turned into something beautiful.”

The second level of community was local, he said. “We try to bridge communities together as we do these as a community project with lots of people involved.”

The third, most intimate level is that of the participants and students. “The people who come together for this are mainly architecture students and a lot of them haven’t been out of their country or have very little outside experience outside their countries, and it’s a way to bring them together for a month and have them intimately connected with each other and have them realize that their cultures and countries have differences but also a lot of similarities.

“If we’re going to have peace in this world it really comes from young people moving forward in the world with a sense of optimism and hope and knowing their neighbors. If they know their neighbors and become friends with international people, war is less likely.”

That sense of community was obvious throughout the project as the 29 volunteers worked side by side on hard physical jobs, whether mixing concrete by hand, breaking rocks or laying paving stones. Even those with poor English skills when the class began on July 11 had improved by the completion ceremony on Aug. 7 and their colleagues, whom most described as now “family,” helped with any communication difficulties.

Tomohiro Iko of Shizuoka, Japan, a graduate student in International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, was filming the process and managing the blog. He said he saw the project as a small proof that with a common goal, people can overcome their difficulties.

“If the world can find a common topic to fight against,” he said, “there will be peace.”

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sweet Treats

July 31 (Jeju Weekly) Christine Miller’s home kitchen is one part artist’s studio, one part chemistry lab, with a dash of children’s playground and a hearty dusting of fun and creativity. Recently repainted a vivid blue “to match a post-it note,” Christine’s cupboards are covered in hand-written notes listing ingredients and recipes for some of her creations, and her shelves, fridge and freezer are filled with the tools of an inspired baker’s trade. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a baking day, you’ll be met by the irresistible smell of cakes cooking and will probably get to sample some of her sweet treats. You may even find yourself changing into a borrowed T-shirt and helping to sculpt babies out of fondant, as this writer did recently.

As an English teacher and PhD candidate at Jeju National University, one might think that Christine would have more than enough work to keep her days full. But she loves to bake and, with a little help from her friends, at the beginning of May turned her hobby into a small home bakery business – Jeju Cakes by Christine. The menu on her Facebook page has an impressive list of cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, pies, brownies and bars, along with rave reviews from customers, most of whom keep coming back for more.

Christine came to Jeju in 2002, “before the World Cup,” and initially intended her visit to be a one-year sabbatical from studying law at South Texas College of Law in Houston. “When I was looking to go overseas, I thought ‘Korea looks nice and they have an island that looks nice,’” she said. She fully intended to return to Texas and her law degree but near the end of her first year went on a blind date arranged by her colleagues and met the man she has since married, Lee Bang Won (Joe). The couple lives in a small house in Ara-dong where Christine bakes and deco-rates her edible artworks, which she or Joe then delivers. Cooking was also a family affair in her hometown in the Rio Grande Valley. “My mother was a home economics teacher for 30- something years,” she said, “so I just grew up baking.”

Sourcing Western-style ingredients and cookware can be difficult in Korea, and even more so on Jeju Island. “It’s a matter of luck, vague online searches in Korean and friends finding places that are obscure and have a few things I need. But mainly online,” she said. She reads, writes and speaks Korean so is able to negotiate the Korean Web sites well, her favorite being And when she can’t get a particular ingredient, such as strawberry gelatin to make strawberry cake, she creates her own recipe to work with what is available.

She averages four or five baking orders most weeks, but that can fluctuate wildly. “This week is crazy,” she said in mid-July when interviewed. “This week I have …,” she paused, counting on her fingers, “I’m baking 15 cakes this week.” That number increased to 17 cakes and a pie when she was asked to do some last-minute orders for friends.

Robin Edmunds and her husband, Simon, have been purchasing from Christine since soon after she started the business and are ardent fans of both the cakes and the cook. Robin said they had been browsing the Web site and looking for an opportunity to order and decided the 6-month celebration for their daughter, Noa, was the ideal justification. For a party at Noa’s daycare, Robin ordered three dozen cupcakes in strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavors, iced “in brilliant colors with flowers and butterflies.” Only three of the cupcakes made it back to the family’s home and they were almost the cause of “our first argument,” Robin said, as Simon thought she should have saved more.

She ordered a “Mama’s Secret Chocolate and Cheesecake Swirl Cake” for Simon for his first Father’s Day, and when they both celebrated birthdays within days of each other in July, a second “Mama’s Secret” for him and a “Deep-Dish Pumpkin Pie” for her were part of Christine’s big baking week.

Robin said Jeju Cakes by Christine fills a niche in the market perfectly as Korean baked goods are disappointing to many foreigners. Christine’s flexibility and knowledge of her product was impressive, Robin said. “She’s willing to work with you if you want to tweak her recipes a bit.”

Christine endeavors not to eat many sweets herself but practices new recipes before offering them to customers and tests all her creations. “You have to sample things you bake to be sure they taste good, and if something turns out bad I will not sell it,” she said.

The rapidly growing following her baking has on the island and further afield (the mother of an American working here ordered a cake for his birthday over the Internet) is proof that her high standards are appreciated by those fortunate enough to taste the results.

Jeju Cakes by Christine

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Swim

Two friends are attempting to swim/kayak around Jeju Island to raise environmental awareness, specifically that each action and choice an individual makes will impact on the entire ecosystem. I joined the action on Sunday as a (not-so-effective) substitute for the kayaker. What follows is the guest blog I wrote for their site:

I gained new respect for Steve’s part of the Jeju Big Swim on Sunday when I stepped into his shoes (sat in his kayak) to accompany Sherrin on a practice swim. It was a perfect day when we left Samyang to drive to Hamdeok, from where she intended to swim back (thanks Mars, for driving duties). We passed through cloud and drizzle on the short drive, but the sun was shining brightly at Hamdeok’s smaller beach, beside Seowoobong. We loaded up the kayak and headed out and were just outside the official swimming area when Sherrin remembered she hadn’t stretched beforehand so stopped to do so in the water.
Both Steve and Sherrin had warned me that the swim would be tedious for me but none of us had factored in a brisk offshore wind. That, coupled with the fact that my lower weight had the kayak higher in the water, giving the wind a greater area to push, meant I was paddling flat out just to keep parallel to the shore. Each gust hitting the prow tried to turn the craft beam on and I would have given much for a small sail to take advantage of the elements. It in effect meant paddling a zigzag passage as the wind tried to take me out to sea and I tried to stay with Sherrin.
She told me the first marks we needed to aim for and we headed off, me fighting to keep on her flank but managing fairly well. The lighthouse we had set as the furthest mark before the coastline turned in had seemed a long distance from the beach but we reached it fairly easily. It was only past that point that I became the weakest link in the attempt as Sherrin started swimming straight into shore to stay close to the coastline. Fighting for every inch of leeway against the offshore wind, I was unable to keep up with her swimming speed and we had to call off the attempt after only about two hours.
Sherrin was swimming strongly and could have easily gone further but I was no use to her if I couldn’t stay close, and that proved impossible when headed straight into the wind. No doubt Steve, with a little more weight, a lot more paddling experience and a much better knowledge of his craft would have fared much better but one has to work with what is available, and this week that was only me.
Sherrin planned to spend the next few hours swimming laps at Samyang Beach and has one more weekend for a long practice swim before the Jeju Big Swim starts for real on July 31.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The REAL Jeju Mermaids

Some of Jeju's famous haenyeo diving women - these women, most of whom are over 50, freedive to gather shellfish and seaweed