Jeju is an island located ninety kilometers off the southern coast of South Korea. Jeju Island has a population of nearly 600,000, roughly 800 of which are English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) teachers – who are also referred to as way’gook’in which means ‘foreigner'. Jeju is dubbed ‘the Hawaii of Korea’ both because of its (sub-) tropical landscape and because it is a favourite tourist destination among Koreans living on the mainland. Jeju averages six million tourists a year, including many from China and Japan, making the Seoul/Jeju air route the most-flown passenger air route in the world. Tourists visit for a variety of reasons including honeymoons, festivals, outdoor activities, and sports – particularly golf.
Among the many sporting events held on the island are those run by Jeju Furey, a volunteer organization that holds charity events, mostly sporting, and is run mostly by non-Koreans (i.e. foreigners or expatriates: these two terms will be used interchangeably).
Jeju Furey started in March 2009 as a way of raising funds for Nathan Furey, a 36 year-old Canadian expatriate, who had suddenly fallen terribly ill. Dan Nabben was a friend of Nathan’s and Nabben was the one who passed along the news of his condition to our fellow ultimate frisbee club-mates. As soon as news reached Nathan’s friends that Nathan was in the hospital and in serious condition, his friends offered to help in any way they could. They offered to take care of Nathan’s two boys, Noah and Juno, aged one and two, respectively, while Nathan’s wife, Hyo’jeong – a 34-year old Korean – attended to Nathan at the hospital. They offered to clean the house, get groceries, act as drivers, as well as other offers including donating money to help with expenses.
Over the first two to three days, the doctors were not able to improve Nathan’s condition and instead it worsened. Although his doctors suspected meningitis, they were unable to make a diagnosis and therefore ordered a variety of experimental and expensive diagnostic tests and treatments. It was later announced that the medical expenses amounted to roughly more than was covered by Nathan’s health insurance. Although the total figure was not known initially, we were told by those closest to Hyo’jeong that the most pressing need for funds was to cover the medical expenses.
Two other Canadians, Jessie Dishaw and Anj Schroeder, and Nabben then decided to reach out to Nathan’s friends who were offering help and start thinking of ways to raise money for the medical expenses. Other ideas for the funds were suggested including covering the airfare of Nathan’s parents who had arrived three days after Nathan was hospitalized, but helping to cover the hospital bills remained the goal, initially. Being the one who was relaying the messages regarding news of Nathan’s status in the hospital, and by virtue of the fact that Nabben was bilingual, he quickly became the de facto leader of the fundraising efforts.
Two days after Nathan’s parents had arrived and only five days after Nathan had been hospitalized, on Friday, March 13th, at around 6:30pm, Nathan passed away.
In Korean culture, when there is a death among the people someone is familiar with, it is customary to attend the equivalent of a wake while carrying an envelope with money inside – usually 30,000 won, (CAD $30) - which is called the buju (부주). The buju is meant to help subsidize funeral costs, hospital bills, and/or whatever other expenses may come up, and if there is money leftover, it is used to help the surviving kin start their new life. Because Hyo’jeong had lived her life on Jeju Island, she had many relatives, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and co-workers who were able to attend and contribute to the buju. The buju raised more money than expected, and more than enough to cover the medical expenses and the funeral costs and so Hyo’jeong decided that she would use the money from the buju to do cover those expenses.
The Korean custom of the buju was unknown or not taken into consideration by the three of us when the fundraising efforts were engaged, mostly because we acting with the hope that Nathan would survive. When Hyo’jeong made the decision with respect to how she was going to use the buju, we immediately shifted gears, increased the goal to 16,000,000 won (CAD $16,000) and announced that money we raised would go towards starting a trust fund for Nathan’s two boys’ post-secondary education. This initiative was named, ‘The Furey Foundation’ which later became more commonly known and referred to as ‘Jeju Furey’.
Upon hearing news of Nathan’s illness and death, Nathan’s friends and relatives in Canada also started raising money, and within a couple of months they had collected roughly CAD $20,000. Nathan’s friends and relatives in Canada also decided that the money they raised would go towards Juno and Noah’s post-secondary education. Hyo’jeong and her family, and Nathan’s parents and their family were all very pleased with all three fundraising efforts and their respective purposes. In the event that both Hyo’jeong and Nathan’s parents would turn down the offer of raising money for Juno and Noah, it was decided the money would be used in another way. Possibilities included sending the money to a local orphanage, or locating another family in similarly difficult predicament.
Although separate, these three fundraising efforts; the buju, Jeju Furey, and the efforts made by Nathan’s friends and relatives in Canada, were nonetheless linked in that people did not limit their contributions to one. Nor were Jeju Furey contributors limited to expatriates on the island. Nathan had lived on Jeju for over three years and so had made a number of friends who had since left the island but were able to keep informed and connected through Facebook and contribute to Jeju Furey. Donations came in from mainland Korea, England, New Zealand, the U.S.A., and Canada. Having reached their goals and run their courses, though, the other two fundraising efforts ended, whereas Jeju Furey has transcended them in scope and purpose – in that it now helps other families in need – remains active, and continues to grow.
Within three months of Nathan’s passing, Jeju Furey’s newest goal of 16,000,00 won (CAD $16,000) was reached by way of pillow sales, auctions (made up mostly of donated goods), t-shirt sales, photo ops, open mic nights, as well as a few other means and capped off by a beach volleyball tournament on June 13th and 14th, 2009. The funds were collected under the name of The Furey Foundation (aka Jeju Furey), that had its own bank account, website, and Facebook presence.
Of all the efforts made to that point, the beach volleyball tournament held in June 2009 (BVB 1) raised the second-most amount of funds, and as Nabben recalls, had more people asking for another edition than the other efforts. BVB1 was also the first fully participatory event that Jeju Furey held up to that point in time. It was a two-day, weekend-long event that started at eight in the morning on a Saturday and lasted until six in the evening of the next day. Participants were encouraged to set up tents and join the organizers in camping out at the beach all weekend long, and roughly half of the participants did. Following the round-robin competition and a pizza dinner on the Saturday, there was a Swing Dance party on the beach’s stage (a large pagoda/gazebo), put on by Koreans of a local Swing Dance club called Swing Island. While many took part in the dancing, others gathered around campfires with acoustic guitars and partied late into the night. Nabben remembers the feedback during the event and following to being very positive and that the event was a success.
The money raised through BVB 1 was enough to achieve the fundraising goal of $16,000 CAD, and it also marked the end of Anj Schroeder’s involvement with Jeju Furey as she was leaving the island, and Jessie Dishaw also withdrew from being organizer for Jeju Furey in order to focus more on organizing Open Mic nights and other events. But seeing the potential for more money to be raised, Nabben decided to keep Jeju Furey alive and hold at least one more beach volleyball tournament (BVB 2) three months later, in early October 2009. which brought Jeju Furey closer to its newest goal of 20 million won (CAD $20,000). The goal was increased not only because its achievability had become a possibility, but also because 20 million was a nice, big, round, even number that just looked better than 16,000,000 won (CAD $16,000), and it meant ten million won (CAD $10,000) for each child to put in a trust fund to grow over the next eighteen to twenty years.
With BVB 3 in May 2010, Jeju Furey not only reached its 20 million won-goal (CAD $20,000), but the tournament had grown to nearly twice the size of BVB 1. It was clear there was sufficient interest and demand for this event so Nabben decided to continue holding charity events, but for new beneficiaries.
Jeju Furey contacted a local Conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society (a charity organization that helps poor people with their basic needs), and asked them to find a family that lived in the neighbourhood of the beach where the BVBs had been held, and a family judged to be most in need of financial assistance. Supporting a Korean family in this way, greatly appealed to many foreigners on Jeju, who had long wanted to give back something to their host community.
Over the next two years, the demand for more events and greater variety steadily increased, so Jeju Furey added a beach frisbee tournament, a beach dance party, bowling tournaments, a screen golf tournament, more auctions, a boat party, an art festival, Christmas-gifts-for-orphans drives, and badminton tournaments to its calendar. These and other events brought in over 60 million won (CAD $60,000), to-date.
The open-door nature of the events and organization provided an opportunity for people to have a stake in the event’s success, and also contributed to forging relationships. Nabben was told by people told that they met their best friends, their fiancé, their future spouse at, or as result of, a Jeju Furey event. he was also told by some that they credited a Jeju Furey event for being a turning point in their life, and said that “the event brings a ‘cohesiveness’ to the island’s younger communities,” (Jeju Weekly, 2012). Three-year resident, Keith Wojewnik, commented online publicly following a boat party that Jeju Furey hosted:
“[The] boat party was amazing and it wouldn't have been possible without [Jeju Furey’s] dedication towards bringing great events and ideas to the island … and it has been [Jeju Furey’s] efforts to create these events that has made Jeju a special place for every single person that moves here to live. The main difference between living in Jeju vs. anywhere else in Korea is the amazing community of people that welcome everyone with open arms. Every single person that has visited this island is always amazed at how tight the community is here and it’s truly because of [Jeju Furey’s] events that we have all come together, gotten to know one another, and made Jeju a special place for all of us to live and welcome new arrivals. [Jeju Furey] has created an atmosphere that will forever be engrained with the island. The boat party and other events … have all contributed their own slice to the larger pie of what makes this place great. Thanks for the party and thanks for bringing the people together into a community that has thrived and supported each other through countless obstacles by running/creating … events” [with apologies to Wojewnik for my minor grammatical corrections] (Boat Party, 2011).
The community Wojewnik is referring to is almost entirely comprised of expatriates who teach English as a Second Language (ESL), or have other jobs in other fields but usually related to the ESL industry. All ESL teachers in public and private schools have bachelor’s degrees and come from the Anglosphere (USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Ireland) – a requirement under Korean law. Most of the ESL teachers are recent graduates, are unmarried, and have signed one- or two-year contracts with public or private schools. They have come to Korea for a variety of reasons, and often a combination of them, such as: to pay off a debt or a student loan, a hankering for an international or a living abroad experience, to gain teaching experience, to overcome a dearth of jobs back home, to accompany a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend, to build a nest egg, to travel, or even simply because of a general dissatisfaction with wherever they are at the time. 50% of all ESL teachers’ contracts are not renewed, whether it was the choice of the ESL teacher or the employer , but either way virtually all the ESL teachers that do leave are replaced, and there has been a steady increase in the number of foreigners living on Jeju Island over the past few years. Part of the increase is due to an initiative by Jeju’s Provincial Government to become the English Education ‘hub’ of East Asia . To become this hub the government has allocated significant amounts of money and resources into English language learning programs and schools. Although this makes for a very transient foreigner-population, the turnover of ESL teachers, however, does not take place all at once. There are two major hiring seasons that coincide with the beginning of the public school board’s semesters (March and September), both the public school board, the colleges and universities, and the few hundred small private schools hire all year round.
In order to accommodate the transient foreigner-population, Jeju Furey events have remained largely inclusive. The events have been open to all and amongst the participants there has been representation from several age groups, nationalities, boys and girls, men and women, with varying degrees of ability and skill, and from different parts of mainland Korea, as well. People were encouraged to form their own teams but could also register individually or with incomplete teams. Those not interested in playing were encouraged to volunteer and participate in other ways, and all members of the community were encouraged to be spectators of the games and festivities. Participants, in particular, were encouraged to take part and volunteer their time in the organization and the set-up of the events.the total number of individual participants across all the events is relatively small; around a thousand, a quarter of which are Korean. (NB: if one person participated in two events, it is still only counted as one unique individual participating in a Jeju Furey event). Jeju Island’s total population, on the other hand, is half a million, less than a thousand of whom are ESL teachers . In other words, a sizeable sum of money was raised by a small group of people in a relatively short period of time. An unanticipated and not-engineered result of this was that a tightly-knit community was being formed. Having been a member of this community myself for four years prior to Jeju Furey and for more than three years afterwards, Nabben has experienced first-hand the state of Jeju’s foreign community before – and its growth in cohesion after – Jeju Furey’s charity sporting events began.
-(Jeju Province, 2013)
-(Korea Times, 2013)
-(Korea Times, 2008)
-(Jeju Weekly, 2012)
-(World’s Busiest Passenger Air Routes, 2013)