While the island of Geojedo in South Gyeongsang Province has long attracted international residents, largely due to its shipbuilding industry, it was only in November 2013 that the Geoje International Center was founded as a nonprofit organization, to provide a social network for expats and foster international community spirit.
After some difficulty getting off the ground, the center has flourished, now boasting 400 members from 40 different countries. The bulk of the membership is made up of expats from Norway, France, Britain, Denmark and Australia.
“As with many other start-up organizations, for the very first year, we had many difficulties and challenges,” said Jo Youngseung, the founder and executive director of the GIC. “However many people generously supported the center and luckily we did not close down.”
Geoje International Center has quickly grown in its operations, and now hosts a class or social event nearly every day for its international community. These include art, fitness, language and cooking classes, as well as play-dates for children and religious study groups.
The center is not only for expats, providing several classes in Korean, and encouraging the interaction between international residents and locals.
“It’s a great opportunity to know more about other cultures and it allows expats to get connected with local Koreans,” Jo noted.
In addition to providing a space where members can socialize and learn new things, the center has done its bit to give back to the wider community. They have focused on their surrounding environment, conducting monthly beach clean-ups around Geoje in an attempt to rescue its many beaches from the onslaught of littering.
“Geoje has so many beautiful beaches. However, they’ve been polluted by many irresponsible people. We would like to raise awareness to keep our environment clean and safe.”
The biggest event of GIC’s social calendar is their annual international fair, hosted in conjunction with Geoje city departments.
The fair, which brought together people from various cultural backgrounds to showcase their traditions and cuisine, was intended to foster intercultural communication and exchange between expats and locals, which is the core principle of the GIC. It was run by a host of community volunteers, the driving force of the center.
“The idea about the center is community collaboration: we are here to bring diverse communities together and create a ‘home away from home’ for the international community,” said Jo.
To get involved with the Geoje International Center, visit www.facebook.com/gicgeoje.
By Louisa Studman, Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)