On any campus we can easily find posters or brochures encouraging students to participate in volunteering programs during vacation break.
These usually take place in developing countries such as India and Mongolia for one or two months. Drawn to the images of innocent smiling children on the posters, many students actually decide to participate and are actually eager to help them.
The problem, however, is that students rarely resume volunteering after they have gone once. Most volunteering by university students tends to be short-term, a temporary activity.
If their interest is short-term, how can we say that they are genuinely motivated? Can we deny the suspicion that it is done in order to buff their resume and to show that they are generous enough to go? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Temporary volunteering out of selfish motives is no more, in their case, than another kind of career-building.
What then is a desirable attitude in volunteering? To begin with, volunteering is meant to help others.
In the process of helping others, we get to experience the surprising moment when we feel fulfilled just by satisfying others’ needs. Only when we keep on volunteering in our daily lives can we realize the true meaning of volunteering. Volunteering must not be used as a means to show off one’s generosity.
People tend to become more humble as they continue volunteering. That is because they come to realize how happy they are to help others and learn how to appreciate life itself.
I don’t mean to criticize the short-term volunteering programs. I am criticizing the irresponsibility of students who do nothing more to help others after these programs.
I would recommend these programs, if they can become the stimulus that leads to continual volunteering by students, as in my case.
I am one of those students who have realized fulfillment through volunteering thanks to a university-based volunteering program. I have kept on volunteering afterwards. After a month of the program in India in 2006, I have been participating in fund-raising for the program in my campus once a week for 3 semesters.
At first, it was too much for me to do volunteer work steadily because I was busy cramming for tests, writing papers or working part-time. But the moments I spend volunteering amid my busy life are a welcome, refreshing break. It gives me a sense of meaning for my existence that I could help others with my little effort.
Actually there are many more students who are able to do volunteer work regularly, in their day to day lives. Tutoring students without being paid is the most common way of volunteering. Here at Seoul National University, students are giving tutoring sessions to teenagers who cannot afford to get private instruction at hagwon. There are many study centers called Gong-bu-bang in Gwanak District where students volunteer.
Students are also leading various fund-raising campaigns. They try to raise money by selling second-hand things or donating handicrafts or food to Fair Trade.
The role of the university students in our society is under serious scrutiny. Some chide students for lacking social responsibility, while others think that students are selfish, that they care about nothing but their own future.
It is a high time to find what we can do in our daily lives to make our society a better place to live and just do it constantly. And then, I am quite sure that we can not only find meaning in our lives, but also play a decent role in our society.