Last fall, after having decided to take a year off after graduation, I was constantly troubled by the question, “So what should I do during the gap year?” I was a typical fourth year in college who was afraid of entering the reality of society at the end of the life as a student. I wanted to find alternatives to simply getting employed and working for money––I wanted to do something more meaningful. There were a number of things that came to my mind in regards to this: Go on a mission trip to Mongolia; get a part-time job in Korea and do volunteer works at an animal shelter; don’t try to do anything, but just stay in Chicago and focus on applying to graduate schools, etc. But then there was a lightbulb moment, at which I was self-assured that ENoK could be the answer.
I was extremely fortunate to be one of the first volunteers for ENoK when it started its teaching program in the fall of 2014, and to see the progress it has made since then. In the beginning, the program was new, my teaching skills were unripe, while the students were passionate. Throughout the quarters, not only my teaching bettered, but also my understanding of the students changed. I learned more and more about them as people who have clear goals in their renewed lives in the US, not merely as North Korean refugees who need help in education. Also in the past three years, the organization became stabilized and organized enough to have local volunteers, mostly UChicago students, to run the on-campus branch. I am surprised and thankful that improvements occurred in such a short period of time. And I feel honored to have taken a small part in this huge progress, which I believe will not be hindered here but will be furthered even more as time goes on.
One thing in ENoK has not changed, however, and that is the students’ passion. Students come and go with different purposes of learning, but with the same faith and eagerness about their future. I genuinely respect their determination to have chosen this program in hopes of achieving their goals, and I long to resemble their courage. As I work as the in-house director at the Empower House for the next year, I hope to witness two things: 1) to see myself overcome the fear of the reality, by closely engaging with the people who have made some of the boldest decisions in life, and 2) to see the organization and the students’ lives upgrade to a higher level, so that they can altogether deposit a positive influence to the surroundings.