Welcome to the 12 Days of KKOOM! Through daily blog posts from December 15th until the day after Christmas, we will share highlights of our impact in 2023. Stay tuned to read stories from volunteers, board members, donors, and more on how we’ve made a difference this year!
On a cloudy, cold December day I teach my third-grade elementary students how to describe the weather they are seeing in English. When little flurries of snow start to fall, the students excitedly yell out “It’s snowing!” They all start to smile and point to the windows.
There are many things I’ve learned to appreciate about living in South Korea for the past two years. These things range from small and simple, such as how the first snow of the season in Korea comes with superstitions about finding true love, to big and inspiring, like seeing my students grow in their confidence and curiosity in English. When I take the time to appreciate these things it makes me feel like I’ve found some kind of modern magic.
However, as a teacher, I worry about kids losing that curiosity as they get older. I saw a lot of pressure on students to learn more, study harder, and achieve higher. The magic I saw in my third-grade students seemed to dim out by the time they reached sixth grade. I hoped my students could hang on to that magic for as long as possible.
When I heard about the Christmas party with KKOOM I had the same hope for the students at the KKOOM-supported children’s home. Maybe if I volunteered then I could help provide some magic to the kids at the children’s home as well. I’m grateful to KKOOM for hosting this Christmas party because without KKOOM I don’t think I would have known about the social welfare system in South Korea. I’m lucky that KKOOM’s connection with Fulbright has opened this door to me and many other volunteers.
The party took place on Christmas Eve and the room we held the party in was organized into stations. The kids could get their nails done, take on each other in a variety of board games, decorate cookies, and capture it all with a few polaroid cameras open for grabs. I was at the face-painting table where I carefully painted snowflakes and hearts on cheeks and hands. I remember helping a group of girls with their face-painting requests. First, a snowman, then a Santa Claus hat, and my grand finale was an attempt at a reindeer. This group of girls stood out to me because they were about the same age as the students I taught.
I asked the girls what grade they were in.
“Fourth!” one girl said, showing me with her hand as well. The other three were in fifth.
I asked them where they went to school and they all pointed up the road, saying they went to the elementary school on the corner of the intersection. That was the same school that my host brothers attended.
I wondered if I might have run into them before. I’ve walked the halls of their school and I’ve gone to the restaurants around their home. I think when people think about children’s welfare centers there comes this idea that these kids are in their own, separate world. In South Korea, it seems like there are certain criteria people need to meet in order to be fully accepted by the greater society. Talking to these girls I thought about my students again. How many of them had unique living situations? How many had parents of mixed backgrounds? How many were different from the norm?
The point I am trying to make is that there’s no indicator to mark someone as different. These girls were the same as any of the other kids I’ve gotten to know over the past two years. They liked scrolling through a hundred photo filter options before taking a selfie and adding extra spice to their ramen to see if they could handle it.
This is why KKOOM’s mission speaks to me. These kids are just like their peers with the same stressors – getting good school marks, figuring out friendships, and discovering their passions. On top of all those normal kids’ pressures, they also have a unique situation that puts them outside of the norm. If young students have their magic fade out, would these kids lose their magic faster?
KKOOM works to make sure these students get the opportunity to discover their magic again. They do this through Christmas parties, providing new school supplies, and even scholarships to students who age out of the social welfare system. I believe KKOOM helps kids get to be kids for as long as possible. The Christmas party was the first time I saw first hand how the donations and leaders of KKOOM help provide some magic to students.
The second time I saw it was at a KKOOM sponsored trip to Everland. Everland, the Disneyland of South Korea, is a kid’s perfect playground. KKOOM asked me to volunteer for the day by supervising and guiding the kids throughout the day. It was the easiest volunteer work I’ve ever done. I’m not sure it even classifies as work. Reunited with the four girls I met at the Christmas party, we spent the day doing all the Everland traditions. We picked out headbands with cute animal characters on them, screamed our lungs out on the swinging viking ship ride, and ended the day with food on sticks – buttery corn, cotton candy, and hot dogs. On the three hour bus ride back to the city where the children’s home is located, all the students fell asleep.
The importance of KKOOM’s mission is spelled out in their name. KKOOM focuses on students’ dreams of all sizes. These dreams range from going to Everland to going to college. KKOOM listens to each dream and tries their best to get it accomplished, so that kids can focus on just being kids.
– Chloe Sferra, KKOOM Volunteer
Chloe volunteered at the 2022 Christmas parties and attended the Everland trip with a KKOOM-supported children’s home in January 2023. She wrote this blog post earlier this year and we are grateful she spent the holiday season with the children we serve. Chloe was a Fulbright English Teacher in Gumi teaching 600 elementary students for two years in 2021 and 2022. She is now an Honors Program Coordinator at George Washington University and a Content Coordinator for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). As a former YouTube Content Creator who garnered over 59 million views and produced videos for 350,000+ subscribers, she wants to help students access quality education that allows them access to people around the world.