Hi! My name is Chelsea and I’m the tour manager at LiNK.
I’m from South Florida and never imagined living on the West Coast, but now that I’m here I can’t imagine ever going back. The only things I miss (besides friends and family) are thunderstorms and Cuban food! I started at LiNK as a Nomad, but I had to go back home for a year to finish school when my internship was done. After pestering LiNK enough, I was hired and started on staff just a couple weeks after graduation! So now I work as the tour manager, overseeing our Tour Program, which works to change the narrative on North Korea and mobilize a movement of support for the North Korean people.
Q: How did you first hear about the human rights and humanitarian crises in North Korea?
A: When I was in college, I was part of a club on campus called “Current.” We learned a lot about other organizations and social justice issues around the world. Because of that, we hosted an event during LiNK’s first tour in Spring ‘09 (and many events after that as well). So, that was actually the first time I was exposed to what was happening in North Korea. Of course, I had heard about it in a political sense, but I had no idea about the refugee crisis, the famine in the 90s, or that there was anything I could do to get involved until then.
Q: What motivated you to get involved?
A: I won’t lie—I wasn’t motivated to get involved the first time I went to a LiNK event. I bought a t-shirt, but then I went home and sort of forgot about it. But the next time LiNK came, the timing was perfect…I was going through my own quarter-life crisis and felt like school had become monotonous. It felt like nothing I was doing really mattered in the big scheme of things. So, when I was re-introduced to LiNK and heard about the Nomad Program, I realized I had the chance to do something most people would never do. I felt like North Korea was ignored by most of the world and I didn’t want to be another person standing on the sidelines, so I joined LiNK as a Summer 2010 Southeast Nomad.
That summer is when real motivation hit me. I got the chance to live in the intern house with Danny for two weeks before everyone else arrived. We quickly became friends and I learned about his mom and the fact that they were separated for years before finally being reunited. This hit so close to home. My mom died when I was 15 and, more than anything, I wish she was still around. So to think about families being separated for no reason broke my heart and I knew I wanted to work for an organization that believed in the importance of reuniting families.
Q: How would you describe your role at LiNK to someone you were meeting for the first time?
A: I’m involved with everything and anything that has to do with the Tour Program. From hiring Nomads, to preparing them for their job once they hit the road, to goal-setting and logistics, to budgets and van maintenance. I also work on the long-term vision for the program and think of ways to make it as effective and impactful as possible. Changing the narrative is such an important part of what we do, and the Tour Program plays a big role in that!
Q: Are there any other causes that you are passionate about?
A: Of course! North Korea is absolutely the issue I want to be working on right now, and where I see myself best utilized, but there are so many issues that I care deeply about. Lately LGBTQ issues, sexual education for kids/teens, human trafficking, and corruption in the prison and legal system have been at the forefront of my mind.
Q: What has been your favorite moment since you started working at LiNK?
A: Honestly, every great moment becomes my favorite moment until another amazing moment happens. A favorite will always be the first day Nomads are in the office. The excitement that comes for a new class is unlike anything else and it feels different but familiar every time (the Jangmadang Tour is actually the 8th tour I’ve been involved in and the 6th I’ve managed, so I know this feeling well). Another always-favorite is the last day before Nomads go home at the end of tour. We all gather together to celebrate the accomplishments from the last semester and it’s just a great time to slow down, look around, and realize how hard everyone worked and how much impact was made.
A couple other favorites have been LiNK’s global staff retreat (so cool to be reminded how incredible the LiNK team really is), Summit (seeing U.S. and North Korean millennials playing ping pong and going to the beach together—mindblowing), and any time I have the chance to meet a North Korean. This summer I had the chance to meet a North Korean who was about the same age as my brother and who had lost his dad in North Korea. We had the chance to talk about what life is like after losing a parent, and while our lives have been vastly different, we were able to connect on this. It was really beautiful.
Q: What has been your most challenging or “wish-I-could-do-over” moment since you started working at LiNK?
A: The most challenging moment, by far, was losing Calvin, Karolina, and Shane this past spring. There’s not really anything I could “do-over” about that situation. But, losing that team broke my heart in a way I didn’t see coming. They have served as a huge inspiration to me this fall, especially when I had no idea how I would get through another tour after suffering such a huge loss. But, thanks to the words of Karolina’s father, encouraging us to continue the work his daughter was so passionate about and reminding us that our “compass is facing north,” I’ve been able to continue on stronger than ever!
Q: What’s one stereotype about North Koreans you’d like to debunk?
A: I think it really drives me crazy when people think North Koreans are SO different from them. The reality is that while a 24-year-old in North Korea has had an extremely different life than my friend who is the same age, at the end of the day they both have similar dreams, desires, fears, hopes, etc. They both like to watch movies and play soccer. They both feel frustrated by the systems in power. They both have crushes and get their hearts broken. They both have favorite foods and talents. That’s why I think changing the narrative is so important, because who wants to work alongside a group of people they can’t understand? When you start to think of North Koreans as your peers, you can’t help but get involved.
Q: You are planning an amazing dinner party. Which three celebrities/historical figures (past or present) would you add to your guest list?
A: It would be a dinner party for bad-ass ladies, so my three people would be Lucille Ball, Hillary Clinton, and Beyonce.
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: So bad at picking favorites, but my top two are Away We Go & National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for very different reasons!
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Oh man, sometimes I get worried my answer to this question makes me sound lame, but ya’ know what, I’ll just be honest! I like to write, bake, and thrift. I also like snuggling with my 3-legged dog Hopkins, exploring new breakfast places in Long Beach, and going to comedy shows since my boyfriend is a comedian!