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My experience of teaching English to North Korean defectors

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Voices from the North typically features the voices of North Korean refugees, but this week, we will hear from two people who are teaching North Korean refugee adolescents in a partnership between Freedom Speakers International and the U.S. Embassy of South Korea. ― Ed.

By Kim Hyun-hui (Jenny)

Working with Freedom Speakers International (FSI) and the U.S. Embassy has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. As someone for whom English was not my first language, learning to speak English was a challenge for me, too. When I was learning English I received a lot of help from many people both in Korea and the United States and learned tips and tricks that helped me learn many words and phrases. I always told myself I wanted to give the same help to people who are studying English. Therefore, teaching the students in the Access Program was an honor for me.

At first, it was tough trying to teach a large class with students who have different levels and understanding of English due to their age differences. However, I was able to learn what each student needed help with. Moreover, it was extremely helpful having monthly meetings led by FSI co-founder Eunkoo Lee and receiving help from other teachers. FSI and the teachers tried to share as many resources as possible and give advice whenever I had questions or trouble with teaching the class!

There are many memories I have where I was immensely proud of my students. One of the memories is seeing students use English phrases and words I taught outside of class. During a Thanksgiving event, a student from a different school asked one of my students a question. When I asked what the question was, they told me, "He asked me what my name was, so I answered in English." Another memory was receiving positive feedback from the students. One student from my class told me since I already taught them the four seasons and how to answer what their favorite season is, they were able to answer right away when they were learning again in school. Hearing stories from the students, I am proud of how much they have learned. I am also incredibly happy that I am able to help them learn English!

Looking back on the first day of class to now, I can see that the students in my class have improved their English. As the program's semester continues, I hope to teach the students more tips and tricks to learning English in a more fun way!

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By Brendan Kelly

Teaching North Korean students has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience for me. Over the last few years I've had the pleasure of meeting a lot of different students that have humbled me with their humility and impressed me with their effort. Getting to know some of the students has really changed my perspective about North Korea but also my own perspective of South Korea.

Being in a new place and adjusting to a new life is a universal feeling that I have been able to bond with student over. On top of this, while the students that I have had come from various backgrounds, ages and situations, I try to teach all of them different things about English and its vast culture.

Beyond the scope of the classroom, I've also helped and guided my students with English speech contests through which I've seen them go above and beyond expectations in showcasing their abilities. Not only have these speeches helped them realize their latent potential and challenge themselves, but they have been a great opportunity for them to express themselves and share their stories.

Teaching young students and guiding them through their formative years has been a great joy to me and perhaps I could say the best thing I've done in my five years living here in Korea. Being able to educate and mentor these students has been a fruitful experience that has been enriching for both of us. The opportunity to exchange perspectives and grow together have been invaluable experiences for me and I hope my many students as well.


Kim Hyun-hui (Jenny) is a senior studying Global Affairs (B.A.) at George Mason University Korea. Brendan Kelly has been an English teacher in Korea for nearly five years. For the last two years, they have both been teaching English to North Korean refugee adolescents in the U.S. Embassy's English Access Microscholarship Program facilitated by Freedom Speakers International.

The excerpts were edited by Casey Lartigue Jr., co-president of Freedom Speakers International and the editor of "Voices from the North
."




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