▲ Dan Nabben (left) was instrumental in organizing Furey events, like the beach volleyball at Iho Taewoo Beach (right). Photos by Noura Ibrahim
[This is part one of a two-part series. For part two click here.]
Despite having left the island to pursue his graduate studies, Canadian Dan Nabben will forever be the face of The Furey Foundation for many Jeju residents. The charity events run by the foundation are integral to the Jeju social calendar and have become part of the glue which holds the international community together.
Jeju Furey raises funds for underprivileged families and individuals mainly through recreational participatory events. The events are open to all - with an increasing Korean participation rate - and the registration fee contributes towards essential welfare for selected beneficiaries.
To date, Jeju Furey events have included volleyball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, bowling, and donation drives, and there are no signs of stopping there. Despite his central role in creating the foundation and seeing the joy it brings to all involved, Dan is reluctant to see Furey as an out-and-out success.
“Less than 5 percent of Jeju residents even know about Jeju Furey, by my guesstimate, which means less than 1 percent of people living in Korea. So, it’s not as though we’ve even scratched the surface yet - we’re not even in view of it,” said Dan.
In his early days on the island in 2003, says Dan, when he followed his cousin here to teach English, there had been attempts to get island-wide events up and running, but the sparse international community hindered any large-scale meetups.
“Supporting Nathan Furey’s family was the main catalyst for getting people together, but the growth of the foreigner community also allowed for more activities, plain and simple. There was an attempt at a soccer team in 2006, but nothing happened - three people showed up. Jeju Furey just couldn’t have existed in its present state in the foreigner community’s size of 2003,” said Dan.
Nabben saw many changes during his time, too, from the surge in the popularity of camping, to the tentative growth of al fresco dining - “I would go through all kinds of trouble to find restaurants with outdoor patios,” he said. Nabben also welcomed the decline in use of plastic golf visors - “I was happy to see that trend die out,” he said, suggesting their popularity is - thankfully - waning.
Recalling those early days, Dan’s words have more than a tinge of nostalgia.
“I often referred to it as a semi-paradise: you could get off of work and be barefoot and on the beach in ten minutes or less. The food was amazing and the people were better. I had never met so many good people in such a short time,” he said.
“I found Jeju to be a place where there were very few “barriers to entry;” if there was something you wanted to do, you could just do it, there wasn’t much that would stop you,” Dan added.
The social connectedness, which would go on to be so central to the work of Jeju Furey, was evident from the start.
“I got to do so many things,” said Dan. “I was heavy into the outdoor activities while there, stuff like hiking, beach sports, frisbee, snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, motorcycling, soccer, white water kayaking, break-neck-speed tobogganing,” he added.
Clearly Jeju left a deep impression on the Furey founder, but few expatriates, in turn, have left such a lasting legacy on the island. Having laid the foundations for something that few could have predicted, he sees no need for Jeju Furey to rest on its laurels.
“I think it can become a monster and I think Jeju Furey can be duplicated in other parts of Korea and other parts of the world. But it’s already exceeded or outgrown its original purpose, so even if becoming that big isn’t in the cards, we can’t be disappointed with what’s been accomplished,” he said.
The drive that got the foundation off the ground is clearly still evident in Dan’s words and the Furey net may be cast wider still.
“It’s come to mean a lot to a lot of people, had significant impact on people, brought people together, helped people in need, created thousands of rich, lasting memories, so I want to do that but for more people,” said Dan.
This is Part 1 of an extended two-part interview with Dan Nabben. Part 2 will follow in issue #84 of The Jeju Weekly.
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