Following the path of peace: Suyeon’s experience with the International Volunteer Exchange Program

Friday, January 18, 2019

SuyeonFor the past three years, the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA) has been connecting with aspiring peacebuilders around the world through the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). IVEP provides opportunities for young Christian adults to live and volunteer in the Canada or U.S. for one year.

I joined the program from South Korea because of my passion for peace and justice, and interest in learning about other cultures to broaden my view as a global citizen. I would like to share my experience and new perspectives during my first five months in Canada.

During these five months, I have totally changed my thoughts about other countries, including within North America. Before I came to Canada, I was not aware of the differences between the U.S. and Canada. By living in Canada, I realized I had very little knowledge and held many stereotypes from the media about North America and other countries. For example, I didn’t know the types of food that were popular in North America. I was surprised to learn that rice is enjoyed here!

Canada is a huge country compare to South Korea, so sometimes I forget how far it is to go another province; like when I travelled to Quebec with IVEP. It’s hard to get used to dry air, lots of snow and a long winter. I grew up in a “hurry-hurry” culture. So I was used to doing and getting everything as soon as possible. It was challenging at first to wait for the postal service, the government, and public service offices to access things like health coverage and a work permit.

I like to call people by their name without a title. Korea is a collective culture and operates within a hierarchical society. Age is important to consider in our society because it’s expected that young people will respect older people in a group. In Korea, it is common to communicate indirectly. If someone were to share their opinion directly, it could be considered rude. But I’ve learned in Canada, direct communication and each person’s opinion is important. I prefer direct culture because I feel more comfortable with open and clear communication. Learning about other cultures, has helped me to understand my own culture better. By living away from what I feel comfortable and familiar with, I am learning about my self.

One of my biggest challenge was adjusting to an individual culture. Since Korea is a collective culture it was hard for me to recognize the individual concept in Canada, even within families. During my second day in Canada, I was in orientation with my CPA colleagues. During lunch, I received a meal ticket to the cafeteria that allowed me to eat as much as I wanted. Since I was the only one with the meal ticket, I picked many desserts to share with the others. When I offered, they said “no thank you” since they brought their own lunch. At the time I realized I was not living in Korea. Ordering foods to share with others is natural for me. Direct, exclusive and clear boundaries in relationships are really big difference in culture. But adjusting to a different culture helped me to learn to be more independent, take initiative and to respect others who have a different view of mine.

Suyeon with IVEPers
IVEP orientation in Akron, U.S.

Another learning for me in Canada was about the struggle of Indigenous peoples. I hadn’t realized this issue before living in Canada. I have been able to see and hear Indigenous peoples’ history and learn about the reconciliation process in Canada. Now I know it’s important to remember and hear their voice. This caused me to think about how other countries, including Korea, work for peace. 

While working in the CPA, I have been surprised to learn how many ways there are to advance peace, for example through social innovation. I have heard and spoke with affiliate organizations and peace incubator start-ups at the centre which aim to advance peace. The University of Waterloo and Waterloo region have many ecosystems to engage with entrepreneurship to create social impact.  I was impressed to see many pitch competitions and showcases to support peace start-ups in Waterloo. Before joining the CPA team, I didn’t think about how peace could fit with social innovation or within a business model. But now, I am inspired by seeing all the interdisciplinary and multi-sector ways of advancing peace! Since I have been passionate about building community, Conrad Grebel University College is a perfect place to be. I have experienced how staff and faculty commit to creating a good community to support students. I have been enjoying the experience and learning how to build a good community and gaining a variety of vocational skills through the CPA.  

Visit to New York with host mom.Visit to New York with host mom.

The IVEP program is not just about connecting with a workplace in a new country. During my IVEP experience, I live with a host family and connect with the local community. I’ve appreciated the kindness and respect of diversity that I’ve seen Canadians show. I enjoy spending time at home with my host family doing things like baking, decorating the house and putting up the Christmas tree. I’ve enjoyed the food as well! Now, I eat a lot of food with butter and love everything that has pumpkin spice.

When reflecting on the past five months in Canada, I was surprised how many things I’ve already learned. I am excited to continue learning more and ready to face new challenges that I can grow from over the next six months. 

The CPA is grateful for the generous support of donors that have made our participation in MCC’s IVEP program possible for the past three years.