Wednesday 22 August 2012

Mannam International

I couldn’t leave Korea without writing a post about Mannam. I’ve mentioned this organisation many times before but never really explained what it’s about and why it is so important to me.
During my second year in Korea, I reached a point where I had tired of spending every weekend out in bars and clubs, or sitting in saving money/relaxing while it seemed everyone knew was out drinking. I don’t know whether it’s because I felt like I’d grown out of bar hopping every weekend, or I just burnt out from having continued to live a student-esque lifestyle for the 5 years since I left university. Other factors within my life had also made me realise I needed to make some changes, and those changes might mean I moved further away from the friends I had made in the beginning of my time in Korea.
I tried a few different ways of getting myself out and about, keeping busy without spending money on alcohol and cabs in the middle of the night. I signed up for couch surfing and met people visiting Seoul a few times, I joined my meditation class, and I decided to meet the few people who contacted me through my expatblog profile. It was also during this time that I went to my first Mannam event. It was a large global gathering of people in Jamsil. International food and performances were promised. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and it poured and poured with rain. The performances were under cover so I watched a few of them, braved the wet for a delicious Moroccan sandwich and also visited a stall to make my own paper crane and write a message of peace onto it.
After the event, I signed up for the Mannam facebook group “When Lights Unite’. During that time Mannam was also going through a lot of changes and expansion. Classes, social events and other groups were being established practically weekly. I started going to the dinner nights on a Tuesday and some café nights on Thursdays. When their next big event, an Open Mic café came around I went to that too. It was held in Hyehwa, and I was actually able to bring along two friends from my meditation class. I saw people again that I had met only once or twice before, and they greeted me like long time friends. I finally felt like I had made some real connections with people. It was at this particular event that I donated a teddy my ex-boyfriend had given me. It was a really important moment for me as I finally let go of that disastrous part of my past and looked forward to what was next.
During the next 6 months of my time in Seoul I got more and more involved in Mannam International. At the following Open Mic, in February, I helped out as staff. Eventually I joined the volunteering committee and began helping to organise the events. Through Mannam I have helped wrap trees in Bukhansan National Park, spent time playing with children at an orphanage, painted a remote Elementary School, MC-d the House of Hope Olympics (a home for the mentally disabled), participated in helping clear litter at Guryong Village (a shanty town in the shadow of Gangnam), and helped in the planning of our first fundraising event and second school painting.
It is also thanks to Mannam that I met numerous people who became my closest friends, Donna, Myheshni, Alex, Michael, Rahul…  Mannam introduced me to people from a kaleidoscope of countries. Before I joined Mannam my friends in Korea were all native speakers, or colleagues. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but through Mannam I learnt about so many different cultures, suddenly I met people from all over the world; India, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Korea (of course), Philippines, Germany, Holland, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam,Brazil, Thailand, Russia, Poland, along with many native speakers from the US, Canada, South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
I joined the Mannam running club (MIRC), and whist a little over-enthusiastic – I picked up a stress fracture from too much too soon – it is something that I hope to continue in the future. I also briefly joined the singing club, although other commitments meant I couldn’t continue for long. I went to Mudfest with Mannam and had the time of my life. With the friends I made I spent time hanging out at hangang park, exploring Gyeongbukgung after dark, road tripping across the country, nearly got stranded on an island and played battleshots in the most amazing apartment I've seen in Korea!
Mannam is an excellent way of meeting people, doing something worthwhile, getting out of a routine of nights out and wasted weekends. They run all sorts of clubs and classes; photography, judo, taekwondo, running, football, basketball, cooking classes, singing, cheerleading, Korean language. They also have regular social events; café and movie nights. There are usually two volunteer events each month, as well as other larger events, like the Ultimate Challenge and Mannam Charity games.
If anyone is interested in joining the volunteering committee, they are always looking for more people to help out. Visit the volunteering blog here.

This September Mannam is heavily involved in the World Peace Initiative, which is going to be a very large celebratory event in Korea. I only wish I could be there to join in!

So thank you Mannam for making my time in Korea so fantastic, for introducing me to so many people and new ideas and for getting my out of bars and giving something back to the community.

Painting Yangduck Elementary School

Social Nights at Donna's

Messing around

A make-shift church at Guryong Village

Overlooked by the Gangnam Skyscrapers

Fun in the park

Open Mic

Goodbye to Lottso Bear

Games at the Hello Kitty Cafe night

Two important staff members

Definitely an extended family picture!

Mannam at Mudfest

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  1. Awesome post Ruthie!!! Miss you and the gang so much!

  2. Is awesome! I want to join the group.

  3. Oh..It is really interesting!
    You and your friends look so frienly and pure that's why I naturally smiled while I see your posting. Haha

    I think you have a really precious time here in Korea as a foriegner.
    And You deserve to it! :)