A few posts back, I shared about how I was going to volunteer in an English Unification Camp (EUC) for South and North Korean students. This EUC is organized by Heavenly Dream School (하늘꿈학교), a Christian school that prepares North Korean youth defectors for a high-school diploma, and ultimately adjust to life in South Korea.
For more information visit the school’s website at www.hdschool.org. There you can find detailed information about their curriculum and activities.
I’m rather appreciative of what HDS is doing for these North Korean youth defectors because they recognize that these students have gone through a different set of experiences from their fellow South Korean counterparts, and realize that immediately enrolling these North Korean students into local schools and expecting them to fully integrate is too rash a move.
Who knows what these students went through to defect from the North? The scars and hurt they are harboring? Assuming that they share the same stress and problems as South Korean students just because they are the same age, and painting them all with the same brush merely distracts us from the fact that the actuality of their situation is not that simple.
Last week’s training for the EUC allowed me to hear a personal testimony from’Golden Star’ (금성, Geum Seong), a graduate of HDS, and a participant of previous EUCs. Geum Seong was born in North Korea and raised by his grandparents; his parents passed on when he was young. However when he was eight, his grandfather passed away, leaving his grandmother as the sole caretaker of Geum Seong. And because he had to help his grandmother with farming, he was not able to attend school.
Geum Seong defected from North Korea in June 2011, and arrived in South Korea after making a stopover at Thailand. Upon arriving in South Korea, he was enrolled in Hanawon, a South Korean facility for resettlement of North Korean defectors. In February 2012, he attended HDS and through HDS, he was introduced to EUC in which he participated. Geum Seong shared how prior to the EUC, he had a bad impression about the U.S. due to prolonged exposure to North Korean propaganda that Americans were invaders and the main reason why Korean unification wasn’thappening. However after his experience and interaction with the volunteers from the EUC (mostly Americans / Korean Americans), he realized that this was far from the truth. If anything, these volunteers earnestly wanted the unification of both Koreas, and were doing all they could to make it happen. Geum Seong saw the sincerity of these volunteers, and realized that he’s been just feeding off the lies propagated from the North Korean government.
After hearing Geum Seong’s testimony, and seeing one of the past students from EUC, I found myself getting more curious and excited about next week’s camp, and wanting to interact more with these North Korean students. Geum Seong struck me as a mature and a considerate boy, someone who placed others needs above his, despite him having it hard in life. As a group leader, I simply wanted to give these students a fun and memorable experience at the camp, and to be able to take their mind off life’s stresses and worries, even if it were for a short while.