Volunteer experience in Korea -- GRACE project of Sungkyunkwan University

By Zhou Uhe (Uha), Wenzhou-Kean University student, 

June ~ Aug., 2016, Seoul, Korea.  

Photo: Uha at Insadong, Seoul, Korea (July 10, 2016)


In June 2016, just after my 20 th birthday, which might be the most lost period in my life, I started my journey to Korea, for a volunteer project named GRACE about gentrification social problem in Seoul, South Korea.

Gentrification is a kind of serious social problem in Korea. Wikipedia gave it an official definition as “a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of influx of more affluent residents, which results in increased property values and the displacing of lower-income families and small businesses.” Though it looks great for making the cities rich and urbanized, there are lots of negative affects for local residents, tenants and urban artists. For the increasing living cost, residents are forced to moved out of their houses; for the higher and higher rent fee without legal constraints, tenants are forced to close their stores; for more organized blocks and strict city control, urban artists lose their public area to show their paintings and voices.

To be honest, before the project beginning, because of the lack of English or Chinese data, the only thing I knew was that I would do something for gentrification in Seoul, but I had totally no idea about what specific things I could do and how to do them. So, just after I and other foreign volunteers arrived at Seoul, the first thing we did was doing some field studies. We visited a lot, including some typical places for gentrification like Insadong and Hongdae. As a tourist, I was disappointed because the similar “unspecial” commercial streets in every big city; as a volunteer, I felt worried because of the crowded tourists and the disappearing urban art in that modern and organized city. After that, we discussed with some Sungkyunkwan students about the  volunteer work mission and schedule and decided our first step—increasing the public realization.

During one month, we really did a lot work. The biggest achievement was 5 different style promotion videos shot by us for different targets. For example, we prepared a relaxing story about gentrification for teenagers, but for university students, we prepared an educational video. During all of them, the most impressive one is an interview video. There is a Korean barbecue restaurant named WujiaQiangQiang in Seoul. Because of the increasing rent required by the renter, they were forced to move into a basement, which was fatal for their business. However, with the fast gentrification, they were faced to moved out again one month later, with nowhere they could go. So, the manager of Wujiaqiangqiang and other people who has the similar fate stood up to fight for their unfair treatment in July. 

Though there is no doubt that the government calmed them with powerful arm finally, when I saw their faces with tears, which was the strongest despair I’ve ever seen, I was touched. I don't have the ability to help them, but at least I can make the public know them, and tell the people who could help them that they need help eagerly. So we shot an interview a video to record their experience, the revolt and their appeal. In addition, after we finished the promotion videos, we did some Internet campaign and organized a concert campaign. We upload our videos and did some promotion on SNS and Facebook. At the same time, we invited some city singers to make an attractive free charity show, in which they gave the audience great performances and shared their own experience about gentrification. Though there were only around 100 audiences, we felt satisfied for making more people know about gentrification.

To be honest, even though we tried our best to make a lot people realize the gentrification in Seoul, I don't think our efforts will help them solve the problem, because of the powerful government, the legal defect, and the public ignorance. However, this experience is really a good help for gentrification, because we, all the volunteers in that project, were changed and touched. We know how serious the problem is and how unfair the gentrification is, so that we won’t stop our step to find the solution for gentrification and increase the public realization about gentrification. Maybe next summer or next winter, after researching and studying, we will be back to Seoul, to put our solution into practice and try our best to find the balance between people’s lives and the financial development.

Sept. 12, 2016

Zhou Yuhe (Uha). 

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Uploaded by Jeonghwan Choi (Sept. 29, 2016) 


Posted by Jeonghwan Choi

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