What was the motivation behind the founding of Wooridul School?
Several years ago, we met a North Korean teenager who wanted to go to college but lacked the ability to do so. Wooridul School all started because a few teachers wanted to help this one North Korean teenager receive the proper education she deserved.
After the teachers saw an article about North Korean defectors and heard North Korean students talk about the difficulties they faced adapting to South Korea, we couldn't ignore the issue any longer. It gave us all the extra motivation we needed to start Wooridul School.
How difficult was founding the school? What was it like in the beginning?
In the beginning, the most difficult thing was our limited financial resources. Since we provide all education and materials for free, sometimes it can be a little difficult to make ends meet. Thankfully, we have wonderful supporters like Running 4 Resettlement to help us and our students!
For students who attend Wooridul School, what is the purpose of attending your school?
Our students study at Wooridul School because they have very low education and are not ready to work or study at the university level, despite oftentimes being over 20 years old.
Wooridul School does not discriminate against anyone. We give equal opportunities to all North Korean Defectors who want to study regardless of their age and/or nationality (The South Korean government does not provide the same assistance to North Korean defectors with Chinese nationality as they do for North Korean defectors).
What are your students like?
Our students are motivated to study! They have a strong commitment towards the goal of success and a good set of ethics (i.e., respect for their teachers).
One of our former students escaped from North Korea four years ago, on her own. As soon as she was able to in South Korea, she started working to earn money. She worked in a convenience store non-stop for three years without any break. She did this because she needed to pay off her debt (accrued for her defection). She also wanted to send as much money as she could to her family in North Korea. But now, she is finally studying! She just started her first year at university this spring.
What are things that your students struggle with, both academically and in adjusting to South Korea?
A lot of our students say they struggle with English. As you know, English is very hard for non-native speakers, but since North Koreans (unlike South Koreans) don’t have exposure to English in their lives, it is extra difficult for them to catch up after they resettle here.
Our students also think the cost of living in South Korea is very hard. It is too high for most of them to live comfortable lives.
How can we (foreigners, South Koreans, etc.) improve the lives of North Koreans living in South Korea?
It’s important to change the public’s understanding of our students and the North Korean people. Our students need to feel trust and real love from other people, like from teachers, parents, and volunteers. We should always be thinking, “How can we be friends?” and “How can we show our love for each other?”
Of course, our students are unique. But at the same time, they’re also not. They’re ordinary people and we want nothing more than for them to feel that way about themselves. After school, our students work part-time jobs to earn pocket money or watch movies and play computer games for fun. They are just like any other kids in the world.
We believe that North Korean defectors will help Korea one day be unified. ^^
Thank you for your support,
*The content of this article was written entirely by Wooridul School staff. Minor edits were made for clarity.