It is 10:30 a.m, Tuesday. People start showing up in a seminar room at the Seoul Museum of History. Some are students from other countries and some are foreign ambassadors’ wives. They share one thing in common, their reason for gathering in the same classroom –all are enthusiasts of Korean culture and history.
YEOL, from the Korean words ye (beautiful) and ol (near future), is a small society whose name thus signifies people’s desire to preserve Koreans’ long and illustrious heritage. Therefore, it also describes itself as the Society for Korean Cultural Heritage, as people gather and form a “society,” even if it is a small one. Marking its 10th anniversary last year, the organization sponsors YEOL Lectures, presented in English by Korea’s prominent scholars, experts, and intellectuals working in the field of Korean art, culture, and history. It also runs programs aimed at reviving age-old Korean traditions such as the culture of pottery.
As perhaps hinted at by its name, YEOL was founded by people who believed Korean tradition to be among the most beautiful in the world and were sad to see that beauty fading away. Consistent with such a belief, YEOL welcomes anyone with a passion for Korea’s cultural heritage to participate in its programs.
The society has been making various efforts to help people understand the meaning and importance of the Korean cultural heritage. It thereby hopes to preserve traditional values for future generations, to create a new culture based on those values, and to further spread the culture not only among Koreans, but also to the world. YEOL has therefore been presenting lectures since 2003 and has started working to revive and maintain traditional crafts, such as the Buyeo Project in 2012, which aims to breathe life into the local culture of Buyeo. Buyeo was the old thriving capital of the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje from the year 538 to around 660, when it fell into cultural decay with Baekje’s collapse.
“There are many foreigners in Korea who wish to learn more about our culture and history,” said an official of YEOL who preferred to remain anonymous. “However, there are not many organizations that provide opportunities for them to learn, so we wanted to take steps in that direction.”
YEOL has announced its 2013 Lecture Series, starting in March, but excluding June and December. The first lecture of 2013 was presented on March 5 on the topic “Modernism in Asia” by the architect Hwang Doo-jin, the winner of multiple awards including the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Award, and whose architecture aims to go beyond formalism. The lecture discussed the current tendency of Asians to look to their own cultures, traditions, and histories, which were once considered outdated. Such a trend has enabled people to view their cultures as sources of awareness and inspiration for developing a newer and more refined version of global modernism.
“The lecture in English at YEOL is, for me, a great opportunity to reach out to a small but selective group of foreigners and Koreans interested in Korean history and culture,” Hwang said. “While preparing for the lecture, I knew I had to deliver my ideas in a global context so that I could deliver my messages from an objective point of view.”
To protect Korea’s heritage and environment, YEOL has been a part of a program called “Sajikdan Jikimi,” meaning people who protect Sajikdan (an altar to the state deities), since 2008. Sajikdan Jikimi tries to encourage more people to understand what Sajikdan is and means: A commitment to keeping neighborhoods clean and maintaining an orderly, harmonious country.
People who wish to volunteer can apply by calling (02) 735-5878.