ONCE YOU are a part of the club, you are making a promise, not with yourself, not even with the club members, but with the kids. You will invite the kids on a colorful adventure, take their hands and lead them into a world of lively culture, art and music. Life is Art (LIA) is a student volunteer club at Yonsei University that focuses on non-academic volunteering with local elementary and middle school students. To find out how they lead their unique adventures, The Yonsei Annals interviewed Vice President Yang Seung-min (Soph., Dept. of Korean Language & Culture Education) and Secretary Choi Da-eun (Soph, UIC, Life Science & Biotech.).
Annals: Could you give us a brief introduction to your club, LIA?
Choi: As you can tell from the name, LIA is a student volunteering club specializing in culture and art. LIA was founded in September 2010 by Yonsei University students who were aware of the lack of opportunities kids had in experiencing cultural activities. We have just finished our 17th recruitment this semester, and we currently have 17 students volunteering in total. The KT&G Social Welfare Foundation, Cho rok eo rin i jae dan (Child Fund Korea), and Gwanak-gu Office sponsor us.
Annals: What is LIA’s aim and goal?
Choi: Our primary aim is to play a leading role in bringing culture and art-related activities to the ordinary lives of elementary and middle school students. Our goal is to continuously come up with original and creative ideas to bring fun activities to the kids so that they can enjoy the time they do not spend on academics.
Annals: Could you further explain the organizational structure of LIA and the main volunteering programs you offer?
Choi: There are three main volunteering programs, and they are each carried out on different days of the week: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. We divide our club members into these three teams, and a week before the actual volunteering takes place, the teams get together to have a meeting and discuss what kinds of projects they should do.
Those who are a part of the Wednesday program go to Yeongdeungpo Social Welfare Center to offer a diverse range of culture and fine arts activities to children coming from low-income and multicultural families. For the Friday volunteering, group members go to Sunrin Middle School to assist with after-school activities. Saturday volunteering is aimed to provide mentoring activities to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Bongcheon Elementary School.
In addition to these weekly volunteering days, some of us meet on the first Saturday of every month to go to Shinjung Welfare Center as mentors to five kids from single-parent families.
Examples of projects that we have carried out include making pe-pe-ro’s on Pe-pe-ro Day, decorating Halloween themed bags on Halloween, and playing dodgeball on sports day. Once in a while, we also hold a Santa meet and greet for the kids around the Christmas holidays. We also get volunteers to paint murals on the walls of schools in poor conditions, not only for the students but also for the community to look at and appreciate. This is an event sponsored by KT&G and many students majoring in art participate to share their talents and add beauty to the local community.
Annals: Volunteering clubs are quite common, not only in Yonsei but in other universities as well. How is LIA different from other service clubs?
Choi: Most volunteering clubs targeting kids are often simply educational volunteering clubs. LIA is different in that we provide kids with a more creative way of learning through enjoyable activities that we plan ourselves. Not only do we go to the venues to volunteer every week, but we also have weekly meetings to continuously come up with new ideas, give feedback and discuss how to improve our programs in the future. We are very hands-on with all of our activities. Also, we are not a student club affiliated with a specific department. Instead, we are part of a larger volunteering club union, meaning that we have a large variety of people coming from different majors. This diversity is a significant advantage when we plan our programs; for example, one of our members from the Department of Music is helpful when preparing music-related activities for the kids.
Annals: Why did you decide to become a part of LIA?
Choi: In my case, I have always enjoyed being around kids. I used to be a part of many educational volunteering groups, but I didn’t like the fact that I had to tell kids they were “wrong” when they made a mistake in their learning. In cultural and fine arts volunteering, there is no right or wrong. I think this is why I have much more fun with LIA.
Yang: I’ve liked volunteering since I was young, so I regularly participated in various programs throughout my school years. I was attracted to LIA because it was different from other ordinary volunteering services—the cultural aspect caught my attention. I’m not that talented in the arts, so I was initially worried. However, I found out that LIA doesn’t require a high level ofexpertise; it is more focused on experiencing daily and easy-to-approach activities. I also liked how we get to organize our own activities. Compared to rigid and fixed structured activities you often get with educational volunteering, I felt that I could be more helpful to the kids once I got the chance to express myself freely.
Annals: As a member of LIA, when do you feel most satisfied?
Choi: Because we organize the activities ourselves, I feel most satisfied when I see kids full of joy when they participate in the things we plan and prepare. At times, our plans don’t always go as expected: the activities turn out to be too hard or too easy for the kids, or we over or underestimate the time. However, we can always improve them during our weekly meetings and learn from our mistakes.
Last year, when the weather forecast announced the first day of snow that winter, we planned to let the kids play outside. We made snowmen together and had a snowball fight; it was a fun day. We could really see that our students had enjoyed themselves when some of them changed their KakaoTalk profile pictures to photos that we took for them.
Yang: I feel most proud when I get to communicate with the kids. When I see with my own eyes that the children are enjoying and actively taking part in the activities we prepared for them, I feel that I am a positive influence on them, which motivates me to work even harder.
On my first day of volunteering, my students gave me the nickname “chic teacher.”
Although I think I am the opposite of chic, I was probably standing with a straight face that day because I was so nervous. I will never forget when my nickname changed from “chic teacher” to “ggul-jaem* teacher” after I got close to them over time because that meant the kids were finally seeing me for my true self and we had grown closer. I can’t wait to see my students again!
Annals: Are there any last words you wish to deliver to the Annals readers?
Yang: I strongly suggest joining our club to those who like kids, volunteering, and meeting new people. If you wish to make use of your time but are not sure of how and where to spend it, I recommend joining LIA. Apart from our regular weekly volunteering and meetings, our club also has occasional casual meetings and activities such as wrap-up parties, mural paintings, Saturday volunteering, secret Santa, and trips. We also place importance on friendship among our members, and since we are a small club, we all become very close to one another. Having such a close relationship between us volunteers means that we work better when it comes to the kids. We create an amazing, fun learning atmosphere.
Choi: May, the “family month,” reminds us of the importance of sharing. I can confidently tell you, LIA is a heart-warming student organization. How about joining us by giving kids an invaluable present—precious time to simply have fun? If you are interested, please hold onto that enthusiasm for our recruitment period next semester!
*Ggul-jaem: Korean slang for fun