Living in a foreign country can be tough as it entails language barriers, homesickness and sometimes even discrimination. Foreigners therefore often tend to spend their time in Korea tending to their own needs.
However, there are some who make the time and effort to tend to the needs of others. One of them is Jeff Kuo, a Taiwanese American who is working as an English instructor at an elementary school in Busan.
Kuo recently received a volunteer award from a government agency for his work over the past year at a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
The National Institute for International Education, which recruits and trains foreign instructors so that they can teach English at public schools, has presented the award to outstanding foreign volunteers since 2007.
Twice a week Kuo visits "Nurimter" after his regular classes to provide English tutoring for middle and high school students there.
"The shelter is really an amazing place. Every time I go there, I feel the warmth and love from everyone," he said.
"One of the women there told me that she never felt so much love and comfort in her life during her time at the shelter. It is this type of personal narrative that fuels me to do better and help as much as possible."
The 25-year-old said that his affection for the families and employees there has grown immensely over the past year and that's why he decided to stay another year in Korea.
However, he experienced discouraging moments as well.
After one particularly rough day at school when the students were rowdier than usual, Kuo was simply too tired to go to the shelter and told the coordinator he wouldn't be able to make it that day.
The next week, he went to the shelter, refreshed and fully prepared for a fun English lesson. However, he found that two of his students had moved out of the shelter over the weekend.
"Those two students were the first students of mine to leave the shelter. I was shocked," he said. "I asked myself why hadn't I mustered up the energy to come to volunteer that day. I felt sad and guilty about the fact that I couldn't say goodbye to the kids before they left."
Kuo said that after a week, he was able to realize that while he regretted the decision, he shouldn't be so hard on himself.
"Just being there to provide them some laughter and fun while teaching English is an amazing opportunity in itself. Now, I am satisfied that we had a happy and fun final class together."
Kuo stressed the need for financial support for the shelter, which is now without government funding due to recent budget cuts. The shelter now relies completely on individual donations.
Kuo makes monthly donations to the shelter. He also collected donations worth 500,000 won from his family and friends, and gave all the 400,000 won prize money from the award to the shelter. However, it is hardly enough to keep it running, he said.
According to Kuo, the mothers and children who leave their homes are forced to leave most of their personal belongings behind. So most of the children who moved into the shelter a couple of months ago didn't have any essential winter items such as scarves or gloves.
But with no funds to spare, the shelter is unable to provide such necessities, which is why Kuo, together with other volunteers, organized a Christmas event last weekend to provide scarves and glove sets for the children.
"The mothers were very grateful," said Kuo, adding that even the smallest donations can help.