North Korean defectors face many challenges once they resettle in South Korea, but one that may surprise you is the English language barrier. English classes are required for South Korean students from elementary to high school and having a good command of the language is crucial to be competitive both academically and in the workforce. Unfortunately, many resettled North Koreans struggle to overcome this barrier because they didn’t get a proper English education in North Korea.
Our English Tutoring & Cultural Exchange (ETCE) program was created to empower North Koreans who have resettled in South Korea to succeed in their new society by improving their English skills. Each student is paired with a South Korean or international tutor and meets up once a week to study. It is a 3-month program, but can be extended if both the student and tutor wish to continue.
In Ae and her tutor have studied for about three months and are now close like sisters. After tutoring sessions, they often eat or go to museums and parks together.
Our ETCE program not only aims to improve the English skills of the students, but also provides the opportunity for both students and tutors to learn about each other’s cultures. Students and tutors can participate in a cultural/social activity once a month to get to know each other better. These outings usually involve going to museums, exhibits, or parks. Every other month, we have gatherings where all of our students and tutors come together for fun activities.
Jihyun and Anna, LiNK’s resettlement coordinators, play charades with students and tutors at our first ETCE cultural gathering.
During our first ETCE gathering, we played charades with North Korean proverbs. Many resettled North Koreans are ashamed of where they are from because there is a stigma in South Korea that North Koreans are needy, poor, and brainwashed people from the enemy country. Fear of being stigmatized often causes them to hide their North Korean identity. These cultural games can greatly help North Korean refugees embrace their culture and background. Because proverbs often carry wisdom that transcends cultural boundaries, the students could feel proud of their home culture while explaining the meanings to the tutors and staff.
Jihyun explains how to play the card-flipping game at the latest ETCE gathering.
At the second ETCE cultural gathering in April, we had a potluck lunch and played games together at a park along the Han River in Seoul. The students, tutors, and LiNK staff brought food representing their home countries and cultures. One of the North Korean students brought tofu-rice, a common dish in North Korea. Food from the American tutors and staff included sandwiches, pasta, taquitos, and pizza. South Korean tutors and staff prepared dumplings and fried chicken. After lunch, we played a card-flipping game, followed later by games of frisbee and dodgeball.
Keep up to date with new ETCE gatherings and activities by following LiNK on Facebook. If you’re interested in becoming a tutor for our ETCE program, please fill out an application form and email Yeji at email@example.com with your resume and two references (name, organization, position/title, relationship, years known, and contact information).