Why did you start volunteering with North Korean defectors?
I started volunteering with North Korean defectors after developing a deep interest in North Korea and its politics as an International Affairs Major in college. It was a part of the world that so little was known about, and yet thoroughly vilified. This seemed like a disconnect to me, and sparked my interest in learning more about North Korea.
What has been the most significant part of your volunteering experience?
The friendships I have developed with my North Korean students. Our friendships have humanized a situation that before I had only read about in textbooks and newspapers. It was incredibly eye-opening to move beyond media speculation, political rhetoric, and distanced academic breakdowns of North Korea, and to actually meet people for whom this country had been home. For them, it is a place countless childhood memories were rooted, where milestones and holidays were celebrated, and where their families had often lived for centuries.
How much did you know about North Korea before coming to South Korea?
Before coming to South Korea, my knowledge of the North Korean Regime was perhaps more extensive than some, but it still remained largely a mystery. I had read news, familiarized myself with the basic history and regime structure of the North, but was fairly unaware to the humanitarian aspect of the situation.
How has your understanding of the North Korean issue changed since working with North Korean defectors?
My understanding of the North Korean issue has been completely transformed since working with North Korean defectors. It is an international issue that has become deeply personal. It is no longer a distant country, but my not so distant neighbor. However, more importantly it is the home of my friends. Friends who I have laughed with, worked with, shared meals and holidays with. A home they have risked their lives to escape from, often times separating them from family members they may never see again. If I have learned anything worth sharing from my work with defectors, it is that this situation is complex, largely misunderstood, and too often so sensationalized that the real issues at stake remain in the shadows.
Why are you Running 4 Resettlement?
I am running because there is still so much work left to be accomplished. The transition to living in a foreign country takes time and resources, and I would like refugees to have access to as many of these resources as possible. They have already risked so much, and worked so hard, and there will be plenty of obstacles left to tackle. However, if I can help in even a small way to make this transition easier, I would like to do so.