|CONTRIBUTED BY LEE DA-BIN
A MAJORITY of students easily misunderstand Nong-hwal for a volunteering program that takes place in agricultural communities. Yet, the program focuses on the cooperative interaction between farmers and students. During Nong-hwal, students visit farmers and experience their lives. Its primary purpose is to provide students an opportunity to better understand the rural communities. Interested in this wonderful program, yet never had the initiative to join? This month’s Campus Insider hopes to provide Yonseians with an overview of one of the most exciting events of the school year.
The history of Nong-hwal
The history of Nong-hwal dates back to early 21st century, when the Korean peninsula was colonized by Japan. In this period, students participated in the V-narod* movement, which aimed to educate people in rural areas. Yet, V-narod differs from Nong-hwal in that whilst the former focused on humanitarianism and volunteering, the latter focuses on the solidarity among the farmers and students.
Nong-hwal was first founded in the early 1970s, during which South Korea was a nondemocratic society under dictatorship. Under such socio-political climate, students felt the need to foster the neglected citizens’ rights. According to an article from the Seoul National University Journal, students’ main target to enlighten was farmers because they were large in number. From the students’ viewpoint, educating such large number of people could help trigger the necessary social change. Furthermore, farmers were ignorant about the corruption in the politics and the injustices hidden beneath the “bourgeois ideologies” planted by the Saemaul movement**. To this day, the Saemaul movement is criticized for coercing people to participate and causing extreme competitions among the villages. Hence, students aimed to cultivate farmers’ rights and regularly visited the rural farmlands in order to communicate with the farmers and learn about their lives. Nong-hwal during this period, hence, could be seen as a means of a structural change in the socio-political system by providing proper educations for the rural residents.
In the 1980s, the National Cooperative Organization of University Students along with other several large student movements started to actively participate in Nong-hwal. In the process, the characteristic of the movement transformed, with its focus shifting towards forming close relationships among students and farmers. The purpose of the activity switched from an educational endeavor to a bonding experience, in which the students and rural residents learned about each other.
A sample day at Nong-hwal
Below is an outline of a sample day at Nong-hwal. Each unit of Yonsei University is assigned to a certain village in Iksan, where they stay for the given period. The Spring and Autumn sessions are held for four days respectively in May and October, and the Summer session is held for eight days in July.
7:00 Wake up
7:15 Morning exercise
7:30 Making breakfast (Nong-hwal follows the idea of self-sufficiency. Students go grocery shopping, make all three meals, and clean up after themselves.)
8:00 Morning labor (The farmers at the village assign students with daily labor, which includes weed-plucking, cleaning up greenhouses, and may vary depending on the season.)
13:00 Afternoon labor
19:00 Ma-shil (The literal translation of Ma-shil is a walk around the town. During this time, students walk around the village in groups and talk with the farmers. They talk about various topics, from personal experiences to socio-political issues on the rural communities. This is the highlight of the event, as student and farmers can build intimacy by sharing each other’s experiences and opinions and learn about what problems they are facing.)
20:00 Evaluation period (During this period, students evaluate the program, appreciate the things others have done, and sometimes suggest a way to improve the program.)
21:00 Kyo-yang period (The literal translation of Kyo-yang is refinement or sophistication. This part of the program is designed to engage students in discussions on various social issues, including feminism, and the farming industry.)
Park Hye-bin (Soph., Dept. of Social Welfare) said that although a year has passed since her stay at Nong-hwal, she is still reminded of her precious experience. During an interview with The Yonsei Annals, she said, “I can still vividly recall the moments we biked and passed the vast meadows of flowers in full bloom. Also, the fried rice-cakes we made in Iksan were indeed one of the best dishes I have ever tasted in my life. I really miss the moments we biked and cooked together and am looking forward to participate again.”
Also, Noh Jin-woo (Soph., Dept. of Public Administration) said that “It was a meaningful experience because I learned that it is important for the students and farmers to cooperate. Also, I found the program worthwhile because we could freely discuss about issues on feminism during Kyo-yang.”
Joong Ang Sun Jeon Dan
Joong Ang Sun Jeon Dan, or the Central Committee for Publicity, is another component of Nong-hwal. Also known as Joong-sun-dan, this activity is separate from the main schedule listed above. The committee, only active during July, aims to inform citizens of Iksan about the program and to discuss more on the agricultural issues. According to Jeon Yoon (Jr., Dept. of Theology), the committee leader of 2017, Joong-sun-dan provides students an opportunity to meet students in other Nong-hwal units and discuss more in depth about issues of the farming community. Unlike other Nong-hwal units that stay within the assigned village, the committee travels around Iksan to promote the program and to participate in rallies related to the community. This program is held for three days during the summer and is open for all students to join. Anyone interested in participating can simply ask the leader of their unit.
It is important to understand that the main purpose of Nong-hwalis not merely volunteering but to form good relationships with rural communities. The true meaning of this program lies in the hands-on experience and learning to appreciate and respect people in the farming industry. Through such experience, students can not only experience the life of a farmer but also learn about difficulties that the rural community faces. A few of the issues discussed at previous sessions were the high concentration of elderly population in rural areas and the consequential lack of a young labor force and the domination of exported farm goods in the Korean market. Through in-depth cooperative discussions with farmers, students can help by coming up with possible solutions.
To form friendship through the program means to share the burden and find ways that lead to a more promising future. Although the problems may have various causes and characteristics, offering a helping hand may help resolve such problems step by step.
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Jeon So-yeon (Jr., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies), the Nong-hwal leader of 2017, commented that there are very few foreign participants, although it is hard to monitor the exact numbers. Foreign students are also encouraged to participate in the program, because it is something they can only experience in South Korean universities. Every student can apply to participate around three weeks before the program begins, through Kakao-talk group chats within each department.
Working in a farm for days can be quite exhausting. Nevertheless, time at Nong-hwalprovides students with one of the most fruitful and memorable experiences offered at Yonsei. The program is a lifetime opportunity to experience life in rural communities and understand their issues and concerns.
*V-narod movement: A movement that aimed to enlighten rural communities during the Japanese colonial period. The word V-narod is a literal Russian translation of “into the road.”
**Saemaul movement: A political program initiated by former South Korean President Park Chung-hee, which aimed to modernize the rural communities.