Be on the lookout for foreigners participating in events at this year’s Lotus Lantern Festival. Aside from walking in the parade, giving directions on Cultural Events Day and dancing in the streets, a group of around 150 volunteers go through a rigorous month and a half of education classes in preparation to help visitors at the festival. Weekly classes on Buddhism help these supporters complete a fairly new program (currently in its third year) to help the influx of foreigners coming to enjoy the festival and get a better understanding of Buddha’s birthday celebrations.
Two years ago, I partook in the first year of the program that seeks to give volunteers a deeper understanding of the cultural and religious relevance of the popular Spring festival. Not only were we tasked with learning about Korean Buddhism and etiquette in weekly classes, but we were also taught routines for a flash mob and for the end of parade dance party.
Overall, everyone agreed the experience was a positive one. Though at times we felt that the classes didn’t provide enough information, we also realized that the history of Korean Buddhism is long and it was impossible to learn everything in just six weeks. We danced together, prostrated together, silently ate at the temple together and meditated together.
The weekend of the festival, we were given our Hanbok shirts and with our teams went to our designated areas to volunteer. My team started at Dongguk University and walked the route of the parade stopping periodically to obtain feedback through surveys from people in the crowds. Unfortunately, the biggest complaint from the teams was that the police, not knowing who the volunteers were, kept telling them to stand with the spectators. However, a combination of Hanbok shirts and lanyards around their necks saying “Volunteer” will hopefully distinguish their participation more easily this year.
The festival has a multitude of groups that come together to volunteer and do everything from maintain the lines during the parade, pick up trash, feed the hungry mouths of both fellow volunteers and visitors, help with crafts for the young (or young at heart) and just about anything else that you could think of. The festival is largely volunteer-based and that’s important to remember when you’re enjoying the beautiful scenes this year.
Hopeful participants can get involved with this group next year by checking out their website or Facebook page. The group provides opportunities to learn about Korean Buddhism and partake in temple stay programs for free throughout the year as well as the opportunity to volunteer during the Lotus Lantern Festival in the spring.
Facebook: Cultural Exchange and Volunteer in Korea