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Lovely story from today's Times

(It's warm-mug-in-both-hands kind of stuff, but it's nice.)

She Helped South Korea in Its Time of Need. In the Pandemic, It Repaid Her.

Decades ago, a young American woman served an impoverished South Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. Now the country is an economic powerhouse, and it decided to send her a token of its gratitude. ​

Nov. 20, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea — Sandra Nathan spent 1966 to 1968 in a South Korean town as a young Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English to high school girls. Fifty-two years later, Ms. Nathan, now back in the United States, received a care package from South Korea that nearly brought her to tears.

Ms. Nathan, 75, had been feeling increasingly isolated at home in Stephentown, N.Y. Reports about the exploding number of Covid-19 cases in the United States had made her anxious about going outside, where experts warned of second and third waves of infection.

Then, early this month, she received a packaged labeled “Covid-19 Survival Box.” It was a gift from the South Korean government that contained ​100 ​masks and other items “as a token of our gratitude for your dedication to Korea.”

“It was as if this box had been traveling to me since 1968,” s​aid Ms. Nathan, a retired civil rights and labor lawyer. “​There was something magical about the box. Some people, Korean people, very far away wanted to make sure that I was OK; that I had what I needed to fight a bad disease. They behaved as though they cared and were responsible for me.”​

Decades ago, ​South Koreans felt similarly toward Ms. Nathan and 2,000 other Peace Corps volunteers. When the young Americans served as teachers and health care workers between 1966 and 1981, ​South Korea was a third-world country stricken by disease​​​, a dictatorship, poverty and destruction left by the Korean War.

South Korea is now one of the richest countries in the world, and its response to the coronavirus pandemic has been held up as an example for other nations, even as it deals with a small uptick in cases. In October, to pay back some of its debt, the government-run Korea Foundation said it was sending its Covid-19 Survival Box​es​ to 514 former Peace Corps volunteers.

“Thanks in no small part to the help received from the Peace Corps,” the Korea Foundation’s president, Lee Geun, said in a letter ​in the box​, “Korea has since achieved an economic breakthrough.”

Ms. Nathan joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of Chicago. She was among the first volunteers to arrive in South Korea and was assigned to Chunchon, in the north, where she taught English at a local high school. She was 21.

The country around Chunchon was beautiful​. Its pine trees were graceful, and azaleas covered its hills in spring. ​But most of the streets were dirt roads. Children went outside without shoes. After dark, ​Ms. Nathan could hear rats running across ceilings. Plumbing was generally nonexistent.

“An ongoing debate among volunteers was whether Time or Newsweek was more absorbent,” Ms. Nathan said​ in an email interview. “Toilet paper was unavailable.”​

Both magazines came with pages blacked out by ​government censors. Crude anti-communist propaganda was everywhere. During her stay in South Korea, North Korea captured a U.S. Navy ship, the Pueblo, off its coast and sent armed commandos across the border to attack the South Korean presidential palace.

On winter mornings, Ms. Nathan broke the ice in a plastic container in order to wash. Her school was a sad and drafty place where classrooms were heated by a single charcoal stove.

​“I began to feel uncomfortably cold so that when I was not teaching, I regularly followed the circling sun as it flooded through the windows around the school building,” she said. “Even when it was very cold, students did not wear coats to school or to morning assemblies, and probably no one had a coat.”

...

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by Anonymousreply 1511/20/2020

...

But Ms. Nathan developed strong emotional ties with her students, who were eager to learn English. She once took a poor and sickly girl to an American military doctor for treatment for intestinal parasites, a common problem in Korea back then. The girl’s mother later arrived at the school and presented Ms. Nathan with several warm eggs, soft gray feathers still attached.

“The eggs, which I am sure my student and her mother themselves needed, expressed such gratitude that I was close to tears,” she said.

The irony of the reversal of fortunes during the pandemic did not escape her.

South Korea continues to keep the coronavirus largely under control, thanks in part to its aggressive contact tracing. Although it has recently faced a small rise in infections, it is nothing compared to what is happening in the United States, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has announced harsh new restrictions in Ms. Nathan’s home state.

In August, she received the offer from the Korean Foundation to send her the gift box​. She accepted, wondering​ if it was merely a public relations stunt for the Korean government.

“I did not think much about it until the box arrived on Saturday, November 7, ironically the day that the U.S. presidential election was called for Joe Biden,” she wrote.

Ms. Nathan said she delayed opening the package for about a week because she wanted to preserve the wonderful feeling that it gave her. ​

In addition to the masks, the box also included gloves, skin-care products, ginseng candies, a silk fan and two sets of silver chopsticks and spoons with the traditional Korean turtle design.

“I am a practical person, not usually given to ideas unfounded by fact,” wrote Ms. Nathan. “But there was definitely something magical about the box.”

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by Anonymousreply 111/20/2020

It's such an eastern attitude for such gratitude to be institutionally preserved and passed down a couple of generations.

by Anonymousreply 211/20/2020

I served in the PC in the 1990s. What a nice story. I wonder if she's been back to her Peace Corps site.

by Anonymousreply 311/20/2020

What a wonderful story. South Korea has made amazing strides economically since the 60s. Singapore is the same. Politics aside, their citizens have a better standard of living than the US.

by Anonymousreply 411/20/2020

[quote]“The eggs, which I am sure my student and her mother themselves needed, expressed such gratitude that I was close to tears,” she said.

Those eggs are probably what gave her the parasites.

by Anonymousreply 511/20/2020

This is the America that we were. I hope we’re that American again someday.

by Anonymousreply 611/20/2020

They need to eliminate that horrific dog festival. It’s barbaric.

by Anonymousreply 711/20/2020

R7, that's China.

But you make a point: there are still 4000 "dog farms" in South Korea. Humane Society International (HSI) is working with local partners to shut them down, get the dogs adopted, and help the "farmers" transition to better enterprises, like premium fruit (a hothouse mango in Korea can cost up to, not kidding, $20+).

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by Anonymousreply 811/20/2020

[Quote] This is the America that we were. I hope we’re that American again someday.

This.

There are still pockets of goodness of the, past. These are what are resprouting. I look forward to 2021.

by Anonymousreply 911/20/2020

I give that lady credit for living in South Korea during that time.

I thought about doing Peace Corps a long time ago & talked with a recruiter. The process made me realize that PC has lost its way. The recruiter gave me a really hard time about whether I was committed or not (to living in a foreign country). At first, I thought there was something wrong with my resume. I talked with a friend and she said they don't know what they're doing any more.

I'm glad I didn't go.

Sounds like this woman had a great experience, though.

by Anonymousreply 1011/20/2020

Time for other countries to send a PC to America.

by Anonymousreply 1111/20/2020

I hope someone is looking out for her. It sounds like she went on to have an equally worthy career as a labor and civil rights lawyer. A "socialist" as some would call her.

by Anonymousreply 1211/20/2020

Beautiful story.

by Anonymousreply 1311/20/2020

[quote] South Korea was a third-world country stricken by disease​​​, a dictatorship, poverty and destruction left by the Korean War.

A dictatorship backed and protected by the United States of America, and which slaughtered protesters by the thousands in 1982.

by Anonymousreply 1411/20/2020

Far fewer than the Japanese and North Koreans, and same as in Taiwan, R14. Both are rich democracies now. So there’s that.

by Anonymousreply 1511/20/2020
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