'Green' movement sets up new school
By Eileen Cahill
April 5, 2002
Is it safe to drink the tap water in Seoul? What are the long-term effects of the "yellow dust" that plagues Korea every spring? Are the pesticides on store-bought produce really necessary? Is quality of life deteriorating in proportion to economic prosperity?
As Koreans are assaulted with a steady stream of bad news about the environment, many are seeking a different way of living. Korea's burgeoning "green" movement, comprising an estimated 100,000 people who have shunned the fast track to success to carve out their own niche, may hold the best hope for solutions to some of the nation's biggest problems.
For Park Seong-joon, a professor of peace studies at Sungkonghoe University, greenness encompasses "love of nature, love of life, organic farming, sustainable development and peaceful coexistence." Having studied the last of these in depth at Pendle Hill, a Quaker "center for study and contemplation" near Philadelphia, Pa., Park is now sharing his ideas with like-minded Koreans back home.
"It is not easy for me to define what peace studies is," he says. He calls it a broad discipline that touches on diverse subjects ranging from world peace to inner peace. For Park and other green-minded Koreans, an equally important aspect of the field is peace between humans and nature.
When a friend first sought Park's expertise for the formation of "Green University," a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the process of setting up a new alternative school in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province, he admits he agreed to participate mainly because he "couldn't find any reason or pretext to say no." As his involvement deepened, however, he became fascinated by the idea, which spoke strongly to his ideals as a Quaker.
Describing himself as a "baby Quaker," Park embraced the religion two years ago while studying at Pendle Hill, where he was very impressed by its adherents' ability to listen.
"Their listening is not just passive," Park says. "Their listening is very active. Listening can be said to be the very essence of Quaker spirituality, and when I realized Quaker spirituality has the inner power to change each person, and also to change the society we are living in, I thought that Quaker listening was prophetic and even revolutionary."
Park returned to Korea to teach peace studies and founded "A School on the Move," which "has no location, no division between teachers and students, and doesn't wait for students to come to it," he says.
With only about five study groups located in different areas of the country, the project is still in its infancy. Members learn meditation and breathing techniques, and tell each other their life stories. Each group has about 12 to 15 members, and "prophetic listening" is the school's central idea.
In many ways, it is a revival of the Korean tradition of "sarangbang," community gatherings that still take place in remote areas, but which are now dying out in cities because most people are "too busy" and "have learned too much about Western individualistic culture," according to Park.
Park differentiates green values from those of "narrow liberalistic globalization" in that money is given less priority and competition takes a back seat to love, cooperation and coexistence. He believes the creation of sarangbang will help create a "communal feeling" to counteract what he sees as an overemphasis on individualism.
"Korean people are getting busier and busier," he explains, suggesting this contributes to superficiality. "Contact is not heart to heart, and we have no time to listen to other people's stories." Yet doing so, he believes, is important to understanding each other and working together for peace.
Park's main role in Green University is to coordinate local sarangbang all over Korea, where members can learn about ecological issues and support the work of the NGO behind the school. Along with about 200 other supporters and volunteers from various locations, Park attended Green University's first general meeting at Yangjae Citizens' Woods in southern Seoul in late March, where dancing, music and picnicking marked the official establishment of its new campus after two years of planning.
According to Huh Byung-sup, general director of Green University and an organic farmer, the school's main objective is to help students develop the empathy and awareness needed to create a sustainable future on Earth.
The curriculum will focus on five main areas: environmental education, green art, green culture, organic farming and soil construction - a method of building houses that uses only soil and wood. Huh believes it is beneficial because it generates no pollution or garbage. Fieldwork and apprenticeships will be important parts of the program, he added.
There is still much work to do before classes open in March 2003 in the valley between Mt. Jiri and Mt. Deogyo. Initially, Green University will offer a four-year program and accept just 50 students, despite a much higher demand for admission. Each class will have 10 students and graduates will receive certificates, but the program is not yet accredited by the Ministry of Education.
The opening of the university is a dream, Park explains, brought about partially in response to the needs of graduates of alternative high schools, who are often denied admission to regular universities despite their schools' best efforts. Green College will also welcome older students, he says, as many are in need of "re-education." For older students unable to travel to Hamyang for a full-time program, Park hopes to fulfill that need by recreating the sarangbang tradition all over Korea and "transforming the traditional sarangbang into a green sarangbang."
As green spaces disappear to make room for apartment complexes, and as people become too busy to talk to their next-door neighbors, Green University will educate and nurture those whose spirits long for a somewhat different world.
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