1. What was the main purpose of setting up VANK?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a diplomat because of my passion to see the world, meet international friends, and represent Korea. However, the opportunity to travel outside of Korea never came so I decided to be proactive about my interests. I created VANK as a class project in college and it was initially a small pen pal site. I wanted to create opportunities for Koreans and foreigners to interact and build meaningful relationships of cultural exchange.
2. What messages does VANK want to deliver to the outside world?
We truly believe in the collective power of individual people and relationships. One person’s interaction with a Korean person can change their entire opinion of a whole country and these minor changes add up for a large impact. Our organization is only possible because of the numerous members who have taken up the responsibility of representing their country in a positive manner. In return, our members also gain a global perspective and a desire to contribute to the global community.
3. Any difficulties while delivering such messages?
VANK’s actions and intents are sometimes misunderstood of being one-sided diplomacy but anyone who has met any of our members can easily see the truth. Our dedication to promoting Korea is rivaled only by our eagerness to grow through interactions and diverse exchange with other cultures.
4. What programs/ functions has VANK recently working on?
Our 21st Century Gwangaeto Project provides free promotional materials to Koreans who are planning to travel outside the country or meet foreigner friends. These materials are simple souvenirs like maps and postcards that share elements of Korean culture. Our Cyber Diplomacy Program educates students on the best ways to build relationships with international pen pals, especially for those who might not be knowledgeable about other cultures. Our World Changer Program educates members on current global issues and encourages them to think of their roles within the larger global community. Last but not least, our 21st Century Lee Sun-Sin Historical Inaccuracy Correction Project logs factual errors that have been published about Korean culture or history and sets out to make sure they are amended.
5. For the project which logs factual errors that have been published about Korean culture or history, are there any former examples of fact that have already been amended? Is the program still undergoing? Are there any facts that are still being misunderstood by the outside world that VANK is hoping to amend?
For example, the British Museum had a display that stated that “Korea was a vassal state of China.” One of our researchers had been visiting and contacted the museum staff about the issue. The museum added a public note stating that the term “vassal state” was unable to truly explain the entirety of the China-Korea relationship. Errors like these exist because historical relationship structures between Asian countries are difficult to translate over to English or Western concepts. The Western understanding of feudalism is different from the actual international relations that existed between many Asian nations. Errors also exist because during the first stages of international exchange, Korea was colonized by Japan and underwent a period of military dictatorship. The program is still ongoing and we regularly contact publishers to request updates to their information. There are still many facts, especially about Dokdo, that have yet to be amended and we hope that we can continue to make these changes while encouraging our members and the outside world to take a greater interest in Korean history.
6. I am very interested in the program about creating media content that addresses critical issues. Can you give me more details?
We have been collaborating with Kwangwoon University and hosting a VANK course for Media Arts students. These students have been working on creating media content that addresses critical issues like Dokdo and comfort women. Recently, the sculptors of the statue erected in honor of comfort women will be spoke to the Kwangwoon University students. It was a particularly meaningful event as they brought the mold of the statue with them.
The course is looking for ways to educate the public and increase awareness about critical historical issues that are also very relevant in this current age. Some of these topics would include the comfort women (military sexual slaves) or the territorial dispute of Dokdo. These issues are relevant in that they must be resolved in order to relieve international tension and achieve peaceful progress with Korea’s neighbors. The PR course works to create media content that encourages Korean youth to gain interest in Korean history and have a rational, balanced understanding of Korea’s complex international conflicts. Some examples are a remixed Dokdo folk song meant to appeal to teens or informational ads for display inside local city buses. They presented their final projects and we were impressed by the creativity variety and upstanding quality of their work.
-VANK Story 2013-