History has been made!! We have hired our first full-time North Korean staffer! Noel Kim might look familiar and that’s because she was LiNK Advocacy Fellow and intern at our Seoul office! As our newest Program Coordinator in Seoul, she works side-by-side with newly resettled North Koreans as they overcome the challenges of starting over in a new society.
We recently sat down with Noel to learn more about her new job and her own experience coming to South Korea.
How is it been working at LiNK so far?
Work is fun! Every moment I feel like my job is meaningful so it doesn’t feel like work at all. I became a staffer after being an intern so the work is similar but with more responsibilities and opportunities.
Why did you want to work at LiNK?
I joined LiNK last year as an Advocacy Fellow. I witnessed what LiNK does for the North Korean people and it was inspirational. I am from North Korea and it’s my responsibility to help but when I came to South Korea, I didn’t do anything to support my fellow North Koreans. I was embarrassed about that so when I heard about LiNK I saw it as an opportunity to make a meaningful impact!
How do your own experiences as a resettled refugee help you when you’re with our North Korean friends?
I lived through the same experiences so I think they trust me from the get go. I try to comfort them and give them advice on educational opportunities, resettlement programs, and even fun things they can do now that they are free. I also tell them to travel around South Korea. There’s a North Korean saying, “A walking fool is better than a sitting intellectual.” You have to go see and experience how society works for yourself. You have to go see what clothes people wear, how they talk, and where they go to hang out. I believe being curious helps people adjust to South Korean society much faster.
What are some of the challenges resettled refugees you work with are facing in South Korea?
Usually, the people I meet struggle a lot with their North Korean accents. When I came to South Korea, I was ashamed of my accent too. The moment you open your mouth people know you’re from North Korea. It makes you feel different. But I always tell the North Koreans I meet that with time their accents will naturally fade and not to stress too much about it.
Also, older people who want to learn a skill usually have doubts that they can achieve their dreams at their age. I don’t think age matters, so I encourage them not to think like that but I completely understand and empathize with their concerns and feelings.
You’re working with North Koreans who have just resettled in South Korea, what was one of the hardest challenges you faced when you resettled?
One of them was making choices. When I lived in North Korea, I was never free. But then I came to South Korea and had freedoms I had never had before. It sounds strange, but it was not easy having so much freedom. For example, choosing your college major or your dream for your life was a new challenge. There were too many choices. I didn’t know what I should do or what I should choose. I recently read the book Escape from Freedom and as I read it, it hit me – I was running away from freedom. It was so good to have freedom, but because I never had it before, I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Now that I have the freedom to do what I want, I’m working on doing something great with it.”
What has been your favorite moment while working at LiNK?
It was two months ago. The South Korea office had a karaoke gathering with LiNK’s board members and a lot of our North Korean friends. We just hung out and sang a lot of songs. That was one of my favorite memories because I was the emcee! I got to dance and I sang “Chingu” ( or “Friend”), a very old song I sang when I was younger. It was my first time meeting so many North Koreans in one place in South Korea. I thought, “This is amazing that we are all together. It’s so much easier to be happy when we are together.”
What are your future plans or goals?
I am going to continue writing. I want to finish writing a book by the time I’m 30. I don’t care if it’ll ever be published. I just want to do it. And even if it seems far in the future, when North Korea opens, I want to return. I want to do whatever I can for the North Korean people. My work now at LiNK is preparing me for the day North Korea finally opens.
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