While the majority of the North Koreans who come through our networks wish to resettle in South Korea, a small group chooses to come to the United States. Drawn by family, friends, and new opportunities, they resettle all across the country. Because resettlement to the U.S. comes with its own set of unique challenges—mainly the language barrier—we have programs specially designed to help North Koreans find their footing in their first few years. Our U.S. resettlement manager Kris explains the details of the resettlement process and her work with LiNK in more detail through this interview:
Describe a normal day at your job.
What’s cool about my job is that no work day is the same. From helping a North Korean register for school to purchasing bikes for a family (both are things I have done very recently), every day is different. I travel quite often to visit refugees and to meet with partner organizations. I also spend a lot of time researching government and community benefits, changes in immigration laws, and educational resources. I will say that the two services I provide almost every day are translation and interpretation.
What is the biggest challenge for you on the job?
Geography. The refugees that we work with live all across the country, making it very challenging for us to provide direct services. I have to be very creative so that we can meet their needs, albeit remotely at times. Fortunately, smartphones make it very easy to share information!
Do you have a favorite memory from your job?
We helped connect a North Korean family with local organizations who helped them resettle and we provided their children with mentors. Still, the family was going through a hard time and they were in great need of government benefits and subsidies. We were able to partner with a legal aid agency (who offered their services to us at no cost) and successfully secure financial assistance for the family. They were very grateful and I was touched by their response.
Is your job what you expected it would be?
It’s so much more rewarding, exciting, and challenging than I expected. Even though many of the refugees we’re working with are not well-off, they are incredibly resilient, driven, and capable. I learn and get encouraged so much from working with them.
Were there any life or professional experiences that helped you prepare for your role?
For four years before LiNK, I provided health care-related counseling and case management to low-income populations in the greater Los Angeles area and before that I worked at a law firm. I’ve been interpreting since college, too. But I have to say that nothing could prepare me for this job better than being a mom. Being a mom gives me a better, broader understanding of the hopes and needs of the North Koreans with whom we work, many who are parents and families with children.
Why is it important that you are here in the U.S.?
Not many Americans are aware that there are North Korean refugees living among them. Due to the aforementioned challenges that North Korean refugees face, providing and equipping them with the right resources is critical. We’re getting more and more inquiries and interest from other resettlement agencies and organizations that also provide services to North Korean refugees because they are new to the issue. It is important to us that we give them resources and tools so they can provide better, more appropriate services to these refugees.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to quote Dr. Victor Cha on his report on North Korean refugees in the U.S. He said, “This group is small, relatively young, and given the extensive screening process that brought them to the United States, they are determined and capable.” This is exactly how I feel about the refugees we are working with. They are extremely resilient, driven, determined and capable. It is truly my honor and privilege to be able to work with them and learn from them. It is my hope that the support from governmental agencies and communities here in the U.S. will increase so that our North Korean friends can resettle even more successfully and truly become integrated and contributing members in U.S. society.