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Learning The Culture To Volunteer

Posted March. 02, 2007 07:02,   


“I thought I would have to completely understand Nepalese culture in order to correctly perform volunteer medical work. This is why I decided to study.”

Dr. Lee Geun-hoo, 72, former president of the Korean Neuro Psychiatric Association, will enter the department of arts and culture at Korea Digital University on March 3, thanks to his extraordinary love for Nepal and his passion for learning. Dr. Lee was a professor of the neuropsychiatry medical department of Ewha Woman’s University in 1982, when, while leading a group of medical volunteers, he first set foot in Nepal. After his first visit, he has continued to visit Nepal once or twice a year to work as a medical volunteer. At first, he went to Nepal because he liked the mountains, but now, he goes there because as well as liking the mountains, he also loves the honest and genuine Nepalese people. After retiring from Ewha Womans University, he seriously considered moving to Nepal, but gave up the notion because of his patients in Korea.

“I have come and gone from Nepal for 25 years, but in order to understand Nepalese culture, I need to systematically acquire basic knowledge of the arts and culture. It’s hard to properly understand a culture without the basic framework of theory.”

Dr. Lee and his wife, Lee Dong-won, a former professor at Ewha Womans University’s sociology department, are joint-CEOs of ‘Family Academia’. The walls of their office are decorated with several paintings of the Himalayas and Nepal streets; all painted by Nepalese artists. Family Academia works to promote Nepalese culture in Korea. Dr. Lee plans to further devote himself to promoting Nepalese culture after majoring in arts and culture at Korea Digital University.

“Nepal is where Buddha was born, and it is where monks from all over the world gather. It is also a culturally significant country with ten cultural heritage sites designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). There is much more than just the Himalayas. The Nepalese people have hearts as pure as white Himalayan snow, and I want to spend the rest of my life introducing their unique culture to others.”

Dr. Lee was famous for his intellectual appetite in his professor days. When he lectured at Ewha Womans University’s School of Continuing Education, he would teach classes in the morning while in the afternoon, he would sit in on classes that his former students or younger professors taught. With an authority on neuropsychiatry listening in on the lecture, it is no surprise that the professor teaching the class felt great pressure.

“The professors would frequently ask that I not come into their class. I felt that I was inconveniencing others to further myself, so I chose Korea Digital University where I can study without having to meet with people face-to-face.”

He often passed by Korea Digital University when he took his granddaughter from their house in Gugi-dong, Jongno-gu to her kindergarten in Gahoi-dong, Jongno-gu. Dr. Lee applied through the career worker entrance exam and was accepted.

Dr. Lee learned to use a computer in the mid 1970s, even before computers were commonly used by the public. Therefore, he experiences no difficulty in taking classes via the Internet. “I think it was in 1973, when I received professor training at Ewha Womans University. I remember being shocked when one instructor told us, ‘All of you professors are illiterate (because you don’t know how to use computers).’ From then on, I began to learn to use the computer alongside my students.”

In the days that he taught as a professor, he would always tell his students that, ‘Later, you will be my teachers.’ “Theories will continue to change. When I was teaching at university, I would read scientific journals and learn through other means, but after retiring, it has become more difficult. Instead of asking a stranger to teach me, it’s much better to be able to go to my students, who I am comfortable with, and learn from them.”

Many other students, like Dr. Lee, who have the desire to learn, have also entered Korea Digital University this year. Among the 4,329 freshmen this year, over 60% are people with existing careers. There are 53% who are college graduates or higher, and the average age of new students is 34.7. Through special entrance examinations, 437 housewives and 49 disabled students have also entered. After being established in 2001, the university currently has 7,000 students, and on March 3, on the campus in Gye-dong, Jongno-gu, they will hold the official 2007 entrance ceremony.