Home   News   The Sinking of Sewol Sparks Terre Haute in Korean Community Engagement in the U.S.A.

The Sinking of Sewol Sparks Terre Haute in Korean Community Engagement in the U.S.A.

On April 16, 2014, the South Korean ferry, Sewol, sank in the sea near Jindo County in South Korea. Many high school students drowned because of design flaws and from following wrong instructions from crew members for escaping the ship. South Koreans in and out of the country were devastated and angry about the news.

In Terre Haute, Indiana, the South Korean families that lived there (around 20 families), were also shocked by the news. As a result, the families decided to unite and take action.

Four Different Strategies to Unite the South Korean Community

The sad news of the Sewol sparked the small Terre Haute Korean Community to act out and engage the larger Terre Haute Community. The elected president, Mr. Sang Do Park, the secretary, Dr. Yong Joon Park, and the community education consultant, Mr. Young Ki Kim, decided to make an effort to unite several Korean groups in town using four different strategies.

The first strategy was to work on the current issue of the disaster by collecting donations among close Korean families. On April 25, 2014, ten of those South Korean families in Terre Haute participated in an initial meeting to create the Terre Haute Korean Community Association, a group coming together for the purpose of collecting donations for the families of the Sewol victims and safety education. A second meeting was held on May 16, 2014, where the remainder of the South Korean families in Terre Haute participated. In this meeting, they created an emergency contact list for each family and a bank account for the association.

Thirteen Korean parents and their children sold lemonade, fruit juice, and items made of colorful balloons in two town festivals. During the summer, six Korean children worked ten hours each for a total of sixty working hours to make money for the donation. Their mothers helped them to buy and deliver necessary items for sale, to make signs, and set up stalls and equipment. Overall, the participants and families raised a total of $1,075 for those who lost family members in the sinking.

The second strategy was to transfer the community’s sadness into positive energy. For this, soccer became the tool (a strategy adopted from i-ACT’s work with Darfuri refugees in east Chad). During the summer and fall of 2014, Korean fathers and their children created an amateur soccer team. During the weekends, Korean families and anybody that wanted to participate from the community came together for friendly soccer games. Age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status did not matter.

The outcome was great! The players were diverse and the games were enjoyable. This strategy went on to motivate amateur Korean soccer players to create the Terre Haute Korean Soccer Association, electing a president, Mr. Soo Hyun Jang, who contacted players each time, prepared for soccer events, and even did the team’s laundry. Thanks to Mr. Jang’s dedicated volunteering spirit, the soccer group has been successful. About 18 to 20 people continue come out and play indoor soccer every Saturday.

The third strategy was to connect the existing Korean Associations in town such as the Terre Haute Korean School (THKS) and the Indiana State University Korean Student Association (ISU KOSA). The Terre Haute Korean Community Association started to support THKS and ISU KOSA events, such as camping and Korean culture sharing sessions in the summer and fall of 2014.

The last strategy was to work together for a common goal. South Koreans highly respect seniors because they traditionally believe that seniors have life-long wisdom. Therefore, the Terre Haute Korean Community Association selected a seniors’ housing complex in town and began to visit during Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014. They provided musical performances and hands-on activities for the seniors.

The outcome was very positive among the participant seniors and community volunteers. Of special note is Mrs. Hyung Jung Chang, who prepared all the candles and decoration items for the visits and events. Over a period of more than two weeks, she made 40 candles by herself in her basement for the Christmas event. Dr. Youjin Yang led an activity in which the participants helped to make chocolate gifts. Overall, the South Korean families felt proud and happy to do something good for the seniors.

The Terre Haute Korean community members would like to express our sincere condolences to the families of the students who died, and our empathy to the survivors who have experienced severe trauma from the Sewol disaster. The Sewol disaster made the Terre Haute South Korean community heart-broken in the beginning. However, the sad news made us come together and turn the tragedy into something positive. We engaged the Korean community first and then our neighbors in the Terre Haute community at large. Through the process of community service, I think that many Terre Haute Korean community members came to value community engagement and experiential learning for themselves and their children.

Now, for a small and concrete goal, starting in the Spring of 2015, the Terre Haute Korean Community Association, Terre Haute Korean Soccer Association, and Mr. Min Su Shin, the youth soccer coach, with ISU KOSA, will collaboratively work together to provide a monthly 2015 Active after School Program with soccer at several public elementary schools in town. On a larger scale, we plan to discuss serious issues related to relations between South and North Korea and what we can do for a unified Korea in the future.

Special Thanks to:
The 2014 Carl Wilkens Fellowship training sessions have been helping me grow as a leader for Terre Haute Korean community. My purpose is to organize different projects and strategies to build up a team within the Terre Haute Korean community in order to create potential for early education projects in North Korea.

I thank and appreciate Mr. and Mrs. Wilkens for visiting Indiana State University and Terre Haute, and for presenting their experience in Rwanda. They inspired many people in my community. I also thank and appreciate KTJ and the i-ACT team members who have provided me wonderful resources and information for my future direction. In addition, I thank and appreciate Kiel, a Fellow from a previous Carl Wilkens class for his support and kindness in my journey.

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