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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…

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(Only a dozen words were edited from our friend’s original version.) I would like to update my life as a college student in the United States because of my intention to express my deep gratitude for ENoK and the people who made my dream possible. Before sharing my experience in college, I would like to summarize my previous life as a North Korean refugee.   Education was my dream over decades after dropping out of elementary school in North Korea. Under the financial difficulties and the unique economic system of the North Korean government, I had to help my family survive instead of going school at the age of 11. Throughout my experience as a homeless in China and Thailand, I realized that hope is more important than who we are today, and everything is more accomplishable when we understand the power of the American values, and not just the…

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(JC, introduced in this blog series a couple of years ago as a summer intern, has served Empower House as its resident director this past year. In this blog post, JC describes his duties and some thoughts on his experience as the In-House Director.) As a recent college graduate, I have been in many situations in which I had to explain to others — whether they be old friends I hadn’t seen in a while, professors, or strangers, even — what I had been up to since graduation. Every time I face that kind of situation, I fall into an internal dilemma: to what degree am I expected to describe my work? Our society has become used to compartmentalizing people, especially college graduates, into a number of well-known categories, such as academia, consulting, and finance. However, there is no umbrella term that simply and accurately captures what I do. It…

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[Sylvie (alias) is a graduate from Empower House studying in college now. She visited the George W. Bush Presidential Center late November to discuss North Korean Human Rights and Education for Defectors. Sylvie shares her thoughts after the visit.] Last October, I attended a conference for North Korea in Washington D.C. area. The conference was hosted by the Bush Center, and I’ve participated as a panelist. There, I met the Bush Center director Amanda Schnetzer, who moderated the panel. When she was organizing the November event, she reached out and asked if I could be part of the panel again. I delightedly accepted the invitation. I had the pleasure of meeting former president George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush. Because they are a couple of power and great influence, I was nervous to meet them. But they were warm and felt like a nice mom and dad. I…

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[Jonathan (alias) is a graduate from Empower House studying in college now. He visited the George W. Bush Presidential Center late November to discuss North Korean Human Rights and Education for Defectors. The reflection below was not translated by ENoK but written directly by Jonathan.] For me as a North Korean refugee, it was an honor to be invited to Bush Institute for participating in a great conference. In late November, Bush Institute held a conference about discussing North Korea Human Rights issue and initiating a scholarship program for North Korean students who escaped from North Korea to find freedom and pursue academic goals. There were former President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, senator Cory Gardner, the special envoy Robert King, and other politicians, and North Korean refugees among over 300 activists in the conference. North Korean Human Rights Issue and education for defectors were important points during the conference.…

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Hi, I came to the US in 2012 and began participating in Empower House program in 2014. Now I’m also a graduate student in a theological seminary. When I first came to the US, I was part of a Korean community in California where I didn’t feel the need to learn English. As time passed on, however, I gradually thought of ways to pursue higher education and heard of an opportunity with ENoK. Because the education in America was so different from North Korea, I wanted to learn what I could not learn in North Korea. With this goal in mind, I moved to Chicago and began my studies in Empower House. Learning a new language was, and still is, challenging, but I was determined to persist until I achieved my goal. The fact that I could study and communicate in a foreign language motivated me. It’s such a privilege…

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Hi, I am a 2-year, former Empower House student. The naturalization ceremony took place this summer, and I can’t properly describe the joy and excitement I felt throughout the process. It’s probably because I fled North Korea without receiving a proper citizenship. As I held my hand to the chest and sang the Star-Spangled Banner, I was filled with pride and honor to become a US citizen. One dismaying fact was not having my parents to witness the ceremony, but I’m sure one day we will be united and live comfortable, happy lives together. I remember my first day here in the US, when I felt God’s blessing in this country as many refugees found shelters and assistance. With knowing only two English words, “hello” and “thank you”, I started a new life as a first generation North Korean refugee. Now, I strive to live a better life working and…

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Greetings! My name is OOOOOO, and I am the new outreach director of ENoK. There are several reasons why I have decided to get involved in ENoK . One of the reasons is, in the past, I kept hearing about the terrible treatment and limited human rights in North Korea. When I received this shocking news, I immediately started praying for those who suffered and were persecuted under Kim Jung-Eun’s regime. The second reason is I was informed by my friend about an organization called ENoK, which helps North Koreans defectors to live in this society through life-support programs. Furthermore, I have been studying for my master’s degree at DePaul University (MPA) and learning about international relations, management, government and nonprofit sector. ENoK resembles my line of study and work, and I confidently support this organization knowing that it supports my belief as well. Serving is not only good for…

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Hello! My name is OOOOO and I was the in-house director of Empower House for the 2016 summer term. I am a Chicago native, and a student at the University of Chicago. In this introduction, I would like to go over how I became involved with ENoK and Empower House, my thoughts on plight of refugees, along with my experience with our Empower House students. I first learned of ENoK through a speaker event with two North Korean defectors. I had known sparingly about North Korea through news media, but I did not fully understand the distressing human component of the situation. I thus decided to help out as a tutor of ENoK, and later as a part of the ENoK student organization. This summer, I live in the Empower House helping the students with issues ranging from college applications to medical visits to homework. There are countless North Korean…

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I am a student currently living in Empower House. I left North Korea last year in January. During the journey, I learned from fellow North Korean defectors that we could go to a third advanced country besides South Korea. With this knowledge and hope, I chose America and applied for refugee status. I arrived in the States last year in December. I had not even left my own hometown while I was living in North Korea. Therefore, it was with great hope and dreams that I came to America. However, what awaited me as someone who had lived in a country that is so far behind in times were insurmountable language and cultural barriers. For this reason, I began connecting with ENoK, a group I had heard of while I staying in the refugee camp in Thailand that provided language and acculturation services to North Koreans. And finally, I came…

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