Photo courtesy of Austin Headrick

My host family and I visited a well known temple nearby.  The artistic detail added to the buildings was truly astonishing.  A temple visit is a must for anyone visiting Korea!

Through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, young adults from Canada and the U.S. are immersed in another culture for a year as they serve in fields such as education, agriculture, health care and more. Meet one participant who is currently serving in Chuncheon, South Korea.

Name: Austin Headrick
Age: 22
Hometown/home church: Olympia, Washington - Quest Church


SALT location and assignment: My assignment is in Chuncheon, South Korea serving with the Korea Anabaptist Center serving as a Resource Staff and Teaching Assistant.

Austin Headrick (right). Time with my coworkers at our Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) staff retreat was one of the best experiences I've had in Korea so far!  We covered each other in compliments written on sticky-notes as a team building exercise and spent time bonding over food and games. Photo courtesy of Austin Headrick

Why I applied to SALT: Originally, I had planned to enter graduate school right after finishing university. But after talking with some close friends and mentors I realized that I didn’t quite feel ready. I felt called to continue learning in an intentional way, but in a manner that was different than my years at university. This lead me to explore opportunities abroad that would allow me to serve and learn as a Christian. There just so happened to be an international Christian organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), with a program called Serving and Learning Together (SALT), which seemed like exactly what I was looking for. When I found SALT and started reading the assignment descriptions I couldn’t help but imagine what a neat adventure this could be! It didn’t take long before I hit the download button on the SALT application and began my journey as a SALTer.

Typical day during SALT: On an average day I wake up at 7 a.m. to get ready and have breakfast before biking to the office. I’ll usually arrive at the office around 8 a.m., which gives me about an hour to read and settle in before everyone else shows up. By 9 a.m. the rest of my office starts to arrive and I begin my tasks for the day, which usually include planning English lessons, updating my organization’s website, proofreading English materials, or joining staff meetings. Of course, the day is also interspersed with a fair amount of language learning, friendly heckling of officemates, impromptu conversations about cultural differences, and brief walks on the trail by our office. Also, lunch time in Korea is often an enjoyable communal activity. It can fill a decent amount of time with cooking, eating, and cleaning together. After the day at the office I typically hangout with my Korean friends or spend time at home with my host-family. Both situations are generally filled with good food and great conversation. My day will often conclude with a bit of time practicing language or browsing the web before heading to bed.

Austin Headrick (left), Yoeng-wan Kwon, Su-yoen Hwang, Kyul Kwon, Min-jeong Kwon, Julky Kwon, Doe-han Kwon, Boem Kwon and Yeong-suk Yun enjoying Koren holiday, Chuseok - a harvest time holiday when families gather around food, similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Austin Headrick

Describe what you enjoy about living with a South Korean family: I live with a couple in their early 30s and their two young children (a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl). While the parents—whom I call “older brother” and “older sister” in Korean—don’t speak fluent English, I still love the conversations we’re able to have about our cultures, politics, and Christian convictions. They’re definitely teaching me to see the world more critically. The two kids—who refer to me as “uncle” in Korean—are my best playmates. Living with little one’s is a great exercise in humility, patience, and having fun. They’re definitely teaching me to approach the world with a more playful heart.

My host family and I often go out for walks, shopping, or other adventures. It is great opportunities for me to see neat places around town.Photo courtesy of Austin Headrick 

The biggest challenge for me: When I left Seattle to spend a year living in South Korea I expected to struggle with Korea’s firm social hierarchy, missing my home culture, and not being as financially independent as I was at home. In reality, these haven’t really come to mind much during my 5 months in Korea. The most challenging aspects have been learning to not compare my SALT experience with the stories I see of other SALTers, as well as not having as broad of a friend group here as I do back in Seattle. Additionally, the language barrier can be quite a struggle for me at times.

What brings you the most joy: The rare moments when I’m able to understand a simple conversation in Korean are some of the most joyful moments for me. They’re usually when my host-parents are talking to the children, but it still makes me feel like I’ve at least made a little progress in learning Korean. Also, spending quality time joking, teasing, or sharing about life with my Korean friends is quite joyful because it makes Korea feel less like a foreign country and more like a place I’m connected to - kind of like home. 

What I am learning about myself: At the risk of sounding a bit trite, I’m learning that I am who I am. This means I get to be silly even if people don’t categorize me as a silly person. I get to be flexible and patient, even if I previously thought I wasn’t. I get to say I’m emotionally fatigued and need rest, even if I think others expect more of me. 

Most importantly, I get to change and grow as I encounter God in new ways through a new culture and a new community.

What I am learning about faith from this experience: Faith is not a diagonal line on a growth chart towards holiness. Faith is more like a muscle that can be strained, bruised, or atrophied. However, like a muscle faith can be strengthened with a bit of resistance and used to do great work. Like we see throughout Scripture, moments of faithfulness typically aren’t moments of grandiose courage, rather they’re often quiet moments of doubt where we choose to step out into uncertainty and trust God with providing the footing.

Tired after a long day of wondering through Seoul, Austin stops to enjoy delicious Korean snacks with friends.  Photo courtesy of Austin Headrick

To anyone considering SALT: The application process takes a while, so just start it! You don’t have to be fully certain about anything to simply start the process. But if you don’t start, you may miss an opportunity you’ll later wish you’d taken.

The remaining months I have left with SALT, I wish to… Learn more Korean, eat more good food, make more friends, and learn to savor each moment in the present with the intentionality it deserves!