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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SETTLEMENT STORY
SETTLEMENT STORY
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[Social Integration Case Presentation Contest] My beloved pupils
NKRF Date 2024-03-26 Hit 59

Nam Hyun-wook

As introduced in the video, I taught English to ‘North Korean youth refugees’ as a teacher dispatched by the Ministry of Education at Hanawon (Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees) from 2017 to just before the COVID outbreak in 2020. I still remember the smell of feces from the surrounding livestock at Hanawon and I was often asked the question, “Why are you like this?”.

I really didn’t have any particular interest in unification or North Korean refugees before. My only wish, as I started working at Hanawon as a dispatched teacher, was that my time and effort could be used in a more valuable way. However, living at Hanawon for three years fundamentally changed my life in regard to its direction and values. Now, I would like to tell you the story of my life and about the Hanawon's North Korean refugee students who changed my life. 

The first student was a female student who came alone at the age 19 with no connections and a debt of 15 million won from a broker. She was the president of her class that I was in charge of and she was the textbook diligent student who studied hard, and who, in the language of your hometown, was ‘moral’. 

However, she was always worried about her brokerage debt. One day, I overheard this student talking on a public phone with her mother in China, and as her teacher, I wanted to introduce myself to her mother. 

At that time, her mother said over the phone, “Teacher, please take care of our Soo-hyang. Please guide her”, and those words stuck deep in my heart. 

From then on, this student became my responsibility. 

Even after completing Hanawon, I became a mentor for this student and through the E-Land Vision Scholarship, I helped her receive a three-million-won scholarship. I also personally sponsored her with 100,000 won for about 2 years until she entered university. 

Soo-hyang is now a senior in college and has no debt anymore. Now a student at the University of Education, she is currently preparing to become an elementary school teacher and waiting to take the employment exam. She has grown really well and when the day comes when I meet her mother, I think I will be able to confidently ask her to make faux meat rice and tofu rice for me. I wanted the students to learn a lot of English from me during their 12 weeks at Hanawon. 

This was because I thought that the more these children experience a sense of accomplishment at Hanawon, the more confident they would become while living in South Korea. In order to provide classes tailored to each student’s level, I filmed my English grammar video lectures in advance and distributed them to students on tablets. 

I was able to secure the tablets through donations from my acquaintances and second-hand sales. A total of 149 videos of my English grammar lectures were produced. Also, for students born in China who did not know Korean, we used English textbooks explained in Chinese. I headed to Beijing, China and bought English textbooks in Chinese. Using the cheapest flights and accommodations, I bought almost 30 English textbooks from Xinhua Bookstore in Beijing, China. At this time, whenever Chinese people kept trying to sell me things, I repeated the phrase, “Ting budong, wo buth zhongguo ren.” Perhaps thanks to my efforts to teach English well, one of my Hanawon students received my help and guidance even after leaving Hanawon and participated in the North Korean Refugee English Speech Contest” hosted by the North and South Korea Hana Foundation, winning first place. 

Now that student is studying accounting at a university in the United States. I thought about why I worked so hard to teach my students at Hanawon and outside of Hanawon. It wasn’t because these children had particularly difficult lives, or because they were particularly sad. 

It’s because they were my students. 

I just wanted my students who came to study with me to live well and be treated well in this society. 

These children came from North Korea and China but to me, they were not just passing guests, but precious students who would remain with me for the rest of my life. 

I returned to a regular high school after finishing my work at Hanawon in February 2020, when COVID was spreading. Even after returning to regular school, I kept in contact with Hanawon students. 

Let me tell you about two other special students of mine with whom I kept in contact with. 

My home is Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do. However, two of my Hanawon students, female students, settled in Bucheon. I said to one of the students and her mom, “If you are assigned a house in Bucheon, I will teach and take care of her well.” But actually, that’s how the family settled in Bucheon. I actually felt very burdened. 

However, since I gave them my word, I ended up mentoring this student, who was in middle school, along with another child of the same age. 

We studied English every Saturday morning, had lunch together, and talked about the children’s school life, careers, and family. 

This year marks the 5th anniversary of what we initially planned to do for only 2 years. These two students are entering their senior years of high school this year and are about to prepare for college. 

What I can boast about regarding this long period of mentoring is not that I was good at teaching English or providing college admissions counseling, but that these two girls have become lifelong friends who can rely on each other. 

I am very grateful that I can at least be remembered as a teacher who went through important and sometimes very intense times in the lives of two students. 

And thanks to these two students, I think I have become a pretty good adult. 

In addition to this mentoring, I began to provide career counseling to North Korean refugee students in earnest using my 11 years of experience as a high school senior homeroom teacher and senior teacher. 

I have written guidance materials on ‘Special Selection for North Korean Refugees’ with related organizations, and have been providing counseling and education to North Korean refugee students and their parents personally and in cooperation with the ‘North Korea Hana Foundation’ and related organizations for four years. 

And in the process, I changed my career path. 

After quitting my job as an English teacher of 17 years, I started working as a career counselor this year. 

I wanted my Hanawon students to be connected to good people and good organizations even after high school. 

For the past seven years, I have diligently participated in meetings with North Korean refugee students and their families, related organizations such as the North-South Hana Foundation, reading groups with young North Korean refugees, and North Korean refugee communities at churches and welfare foundation meetings, and engaged in academic activities with university professors. 

These efforts have become a channel by which to connect my students with good adults, seniors, and institutions. 

Recently, there are people around me asking this question: 

 “Teacher Nam, what do you want to do when unification happens?” 

I say that the thing I want the most is to have a parent meeting. 

I would like to meet the parents of my North Korean refugee students who have come alone without any connections. 

I want to meet parents who are in Hyesan, Hoeryeong, Cheongjin, Anju, and Wonsan and say, “Even though it was a hard life in an unfamiliar land, they did not forget how to be considerate of people, did not hesitate to share affection, and became a truly good person.” 

And I would like to thank them for allowing me to teach their precious children. 

As I conclude my story, I have something to say to my fellow teachers who may be watching this video right now. 

Teachers, I am an extremely ordinary teacher who can be found in any school and any teacher’s office. However, I gained a little more courage, met some special students, and lived a rewarding life. If you, too, have a little courage, you can meet students who will remain in your heart for the rest of your life. 

Please join us in various educational support projects for North Korean refugee youth. Thank you for listening to my presentation.