A Young Man’s First Letter

Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK)
VANK is a South Korean non-governmental organization established in 1999 for the purpose of promoting Korea and cultural exchanges between Koreans and foreigners

I am the person who founded VANK.

VANK initially started as a small pen-pal site in 1999.

It has steadily grown in size and influence, thanks to the active participation of its youth members.

VANK and its members have played an important role in finding and correcting misrepresentations of Korea in foreign textbooks and on world maps.

VANK is now well known as an organization that corrects international misrepresentations of Korea.

However, do you know about this?

VANK was not started to promote Korea.

It was created by a poor college student, who had to work as a janitor to go to college at night.

It was a small pen-pal site that he made for a class assignment.

However, I found my true potential through VANK and decided to put my life into it.

VANK changed the life of a poor ordinary man.

It continues its journey to help other young Koreans realize their potential.

About 10 years ago, I attended an internet application class as an elective course.

The main assignment of the class was to create a website.

All the sudden, an idea came to me.
‘I should make a pen-pal site!’

For this project, I sent over 1000 emails to schools across the world with a Korean language program.

“If you need any information about Korea, or have any students who want Korean friends, please let me know. I am here to help you.”

Finally, happy news came from a Korean language professor at a public university.

“My students want to make friends with Koreans. I am sending the profiles of 100 students.”

Soon, 100 emails arrived from foreigners who wanted Korean friends.

This was how VANK started as a pen-pal site. 

This small website became a source of joy and the motive for my life.

In the 1990s, the IMF and unemployment crisis hit the country, and I also had to struggle.

Continuing to work as a janitor, I put all my time into studying for the TOEIC test.

I devoted all my energy to finding a better job.

In 2001, I finally got a position in a company I wanted to work for.
However, I couldn’t give up my passion for VANK.

Whenever my boss left his seat, I worked on the VANK website.

One day, one of my colleagues came to me and said,
“You always do something else whenever the boss is not around. Why do you do that?”

I realized that my job couldn’t replace my dream, and I made a big decision.

Despite my family’s objection, I decided to focus on VANK.

VANK changed my entire life.

It also made me remove one question from my life.

“Would I have a better life if I had gone to a prestigious university?”

Instead, a new question came to me.

“How can I help connect Korean students with foreigners?”

Now, many Korean students follow the path of VANK.
“I want to promote Korea and our language to my pen-pals!”

I added a section on the website for VANK members to share their stories about what they did to promote Korea.

Korean students are now studying English not for a university entrance exam, but to promote Korea to their friends.

The reports of misrepresentations of Korea from young members made VANK take another step. 

“I found foreign textbooks and websites that label Dokdo and the East Sea as Takeshima and the Sea of Japan.”

“I study in a foreign country. I took an exam, and wrote the “East Sea” for a question that asked for the name of the body of water between Korea and Japan. The teacher said it was wrong.”

This is the story of a student who attended school in Australia.
She raised an objection with her teacher.

Her teacher asked,
“Do you think you are correct, or the textbook?”

She wrote to me.
“Can you change this part of the textbook?”

While studying for the TOEIC, I learned a sentence that I could use to report a problem with products.

By using that sentence, I wrote a letter to the publisher with supporting documents about Dokdo and the East Sea.

“We have conventionally used those names that were suggested by Japan. I discussed this issue with many scholars and concluded that it was our fault. We will make appropriate changes.”

Since then, many members began to report their own findings of misrepresentation in foreign textbooks.

This small pen-pal site persuaded many foreign scholars and publishers.

In 2005, a public campaign advertisement about VANK was made and broadcasted.

This advertisement inspired many other students to join VANK.

Use of the Sea of Japan: 97%
Use of the East Sea: 3%

In 2011
Use of the East Sea: 29%

97% of my life was full of anxiety about a job and the future.

The poor young man found a 3 % possibility of a better future.

His dream seemed improbable.
It was just like a faint candlelight slowly dying in the dark.

He didn’t seem to have the right qualifications for success.

However, he had passion and energy to overcome all his disadvantages.

He is changing the future of Korean students.

He is changing foreigners’ perceptions of Korea.

He is correcting international misrepresentations of Korea and Korean history.

Young Koreans are following the path of VANK in many different fields.

Young Koreans will create a new future for Korea with VANK!

Now, I would like to ask three questions to young Koreans.

Where are we now?

The answer is on a world map.

A world map shows the location of the Korean peninsula.
On the map is the name ‘Sea of Japan’, instead of ‘East Sea.’

We need to make a choice.

Are we going to leave Sea of Japan in the place of East Sea?
Or, are we going to get it back as our sea?

Young Koreans have a responsibility to recover the position of Korea, instead of just ‘Near Japan’.

Korea deserves its own position on world maps and in the minds of foreigners.

Where are we from?

Many foreign textbooks describe the beginning of Korea like this.
“From its origin, Korea was a colony of China, and was a tributary to China for a long time”

Young Koreans must open up their eyes to their 5000 years of history.

Beyond Near China History, we need to include our independent and glorious history in world history books.

Where should we head to?

In 2010, Korea was identified as the first country to have transformed from a beneficiary to a donor.

In just 60 years, Korea became an economic power out of the ruins of the Korean War. 

Korea is known as the country of a miracle!

However, we must make a choice.
Are we just satisfied with the image of an economic power that achieved an economic miracle?

Or, do we want to create another image that inspires foreigners even further?

Young Koreans need to create a new future for Korea to inspire the 6 billion people of the world. 

The 3% of salt prevents the ocean from rotting.

The 3% of hope to protect the East Sea will do the same.

This hope will cross the Pacific Ocean and become the hope of the entire world.

If 3% of young Koreans make efforts for a bright future of the country, Korea will prosper. 

In the 21 century, Korea will be the country that leads changes in Asia and the world.
VANK is waiting for young Koreans, who want to follow our path. 

Your dreams will make changes in the future of Korea!
Your dreams are the future of Korea.

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