Expat societies have been around on the peninsula for almost as long as expats themselves.
The oldest surviving club is the Royal Asiatic Society’s Korea Branch, which started in 1900 and according to RASKB president Brother Anthony is the oldest Korean studies group in the world.
Some groups are regional, such as Geoje Foreign Residents’ association, which has a club house in Okpo on the South Gyeongsang Province island, professional, such as Korea Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages, or help members in creative pursuits.
International Artists Collective director Mike Stewart explained that the IAC was there to help artists show their work.
|Irish Association of Korea members get together for an Irish music jam session in Hongdae, Seoul.( Lee Moo-jin)|
“It’s quite difficult for an individual artist to find opportunities to show their work in this market, so banding together and working as a team is the best way to go about it,” he said.
“One reason is that galleries in Korea are quite expensive to show in, so having group exhibitions where several artists can share the burden is quite good for tackling this hurdle.”
The IAC runs regular exhibitions and is running the annual Flow Festival of performance art this month at Gallery Golmok in Itaewon starting Saturday.
The group meets once a month, but most of IAC’s communication is online. The Internet has been a boon for many expat associations, particularly in sports, theater and other activities that need a minimum number of people to get going.
While associations once relied on newspaper ads, word of mouth, expat bars and other gathering points, the Internet has made it much easier to find similarly minded people in a wide area, and allow even small groups to keep going.
Among the beneficiaries have been the volunteering groups that have mushroomed, such as Peace Love Unity Respect and HOPE, which both run volunteering activities in the Seoul area, and Help Your Suwon, a small group that meets on the weekends to help feed the homeless around Suwon Station in Gyeonggi Province.
“For the last Christmas, we bought some winter gear such as hats and gloves and doled them to about 16 homeless people,” said Help Your Suwon coordinator Oh Jun-chul. “For New Year’s (Day), we purchased some traditional goodies such as sugar cookies and gave them to the homeless.”
While some organizations were born out of a desire to meet other expats, most these days welcome Korean members. Ironically, this is especially true of some nationality-based groups, such as the Irish Association of Korea.
“It’s to promote events based on Irish culture,” said Shauna Browne, the IAK’s social media officer. “We have people from all over ― all you need is an interest in Irish culture.”
As well as the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, organized this year at D-Cube Plaza in Seoul on March 16, they also use meetup.com to organize cultural classes in dance and the tin whistle.
“We started them last year as a way of playing to something other than our walls and since the start they have been hugely successful,” Browne said.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org