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Staff Sgt. Menise Stakens, left, and Staff Sgt. Gracey Martinez help in building a housing complex for Habitat for Humanity. Nearly 140 airmen at Kunsan Air Base volunteered to build the complex, which will house eight South Korean families.
Staff Sgt. Menise Stakens, left, and Staff Sgt. Gracey Martinez help in building a housing complex for Habitat for Humanity. Nearly 140 airmen at Kunsan Air Base volunteered to build the complex, which will house eight South Korean families. (Ashley Rowland / S&S)

KUNSAN CITY, South Korea — It takes a lot of finger-pointing to build a house in South Korea — that is, if you don’t speak Korean.

Nearly 140 airmen from Kunsan Air Base got a crash course last week in this country’s construction techniques when they volunteered to build an eight-family apartment building for Habitat for Humanity.

They learned that hallways are shorter and entryways are lower. Insulation goes up even in the interior walls to keep the house warm during the frigid winters. And Styrofoam ramps are installed under the roof so air passes through and a room doesn’t get too hot or too cold.

Their teachers: South Korean volunteers who worked alongside them. Their method of instruction: Broken English and lots of gesturing.

“It takes us five minutes to get the point across,” said Capt. Bridgette Kennedy. “But it’s a common goal, to build a house. The language barrier is still there, but you can overcome it because you have the same goal.”

Some airmen volunteered to work a half day, a full day, or even two days at the Kunsan City project.

“It’s a team effort,” Kennedy said. “You can volunteer for something like this because the people in your office have to pick up the slack. They’re supporting you to go volunteer.”

On a recent afternoon, 23 Americans were among the 200 volunteers at the site. Some, like Capt. Tim Stout, participated in with Habitat for Humanity in the United States.

He volunteered for the Kunsan City project because he remembered the gratitude of the mother and her two children when they got the house he helped build in Florida.

“That kind of happiness and appreciation from that lady who had struggled so much - that made it worth it,” he said.

The day started differently than most Habitat veterans remembered from worksites in the United States, with a pre-construction pep rally and stretching exercises.

“We didn’t understand any of it,” Stout said.

But some things transcended language differences, like the fiberglass insulation.

“And the itching,” said Senior Airman Anthony Phillips.

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