"Let's show Korea to the world properly and promote cultural exchange through global friendships"
VANK is an NGO for youths whose purpose is to showcase Korea to the world properly and to promote cultural exchange through international friendships. VANK started as a small pen pal site in 1999, but now it has become a huge organization with more than 180,000 members from across Korea and abroad. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Korea’s independence, we visited its office and interviewed its founder, Director Gi-tae Park, Chief Researcher Ji-won Shin, and interns (Eun-ah Lee, Da-bin Lee, and Eun-seo Park). – Ed
Q: It is a great pleasure to meet you all. Can you introduce yourselves and VANK?
Park: VANK is an organization for young Koreans and aims to let them be civil diplomats to raise up the value of our glorious history and culture. VANK and our members have tried to let the world know about Korea with its glorious culture and wonderful people, straightening up the incorrect or distorted facts.
Q: Please tell us how you started VANK, Director Park.
Park: I started it in 1999 as a young man who wanted to start an email exchange with a foreign friend. At that time, I was shocked to find my foreign friend knew very little about Korea, or possessed incorrect information about Korea. So I thought I should do something. I thought, “If one Korean has 5 foreign friends and is able to teach them correct information about Korea, someday, 6 billion friends around the world would have a holistic understanding of Korea. Then, Korea would be able to be a "friend" to the world, with close relationships with other countries.
Q: Now, I’d like to know what kind of work you guys do here. Ji-won, will you start first?
Ji-won: We are also trying to tackle global issues such as famine, environment, and human rights under the name of "World Changer" as a member of global society. I’m doing a variety of work in general here as a chief researcher and I’m very happy and proud to work here with my colleagues.
Eun-ah: I am in charge of issues such as Hashima or Battleship Island and the forced labor, along with the North-East Historical Project of China and their historical negationism. As you know, Hashima was approved as a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2015. However, Japan did not keep their promise to describe explicitly about what really happened there, for example, about forced labor of the Joseon people, emphasizing that there was no forced labor there. My work is to lead on the petition against it, asking to amend the information. Meanwhile, China is trying to distort the history of Balhae and Goguryeo and widen its territory in the name of the North-East Project of China. My job is to continually make documents and papers, asking for correction on their claims. These issues are not dealt with in depth in school. They should be taught well in an appropriate and accessible way, such as movies.
Q: Da-bin, what part are you in charge of here at VANK?
Da-bin: Well, my job here is about Jikjisimcheyojeol, in short Jikji. Currently I’m working on launching a website in Spanish where people from Korea and Spain can share their culture and their life.
I think it is important for us to understand the history and culture of other countries. Before we promote our own culture and history, we should try to understand others first, I believe. By doing so, we can learn of ways to solve the problems we commonly face.
Q: What about you, Eunseo. What is your responsibility?
Eun-seo: I am working on the matter related to the East Sea and Dokdo. I mainly detect wrong information on the Internet sites such as Wikipedia and correct them. I also work on correcting the word "war shrine" of the Yasukuni Shrine because it is definitely used wrongly in that it deifies war criminals of the Japanese colonial era. Currently I'm working on a new project. I’m not sure whether you heard about news that Lego Land is coming in at Chuncheon. The problem is that, in the process of building it, historical heritages there will be destroyed. So I am filing a petition to find a way for them to stop or lessen the destruction.
Q: Please tell us what is the mission and vision of VANK?
Park: VANK has a special mission to create friendships with people all around the world, and at the same time, let them have access to correct information about Korea. As civil representatives of Korea, we will continue to create the past, present, and future of Korea. We, World Changers, will also continue to tackle the global issues requesting all human beings’ cooperation.
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