ENoK Blog

Welcome to the ENoK Blog! We’re thrilled to have you here, and we can’t wait to embark on a journey of exploration, learning, and inspiration together. Whether you’re a long-time follower or stumbling upon our website for the first time, we’re delighted to have you as part of our online community.

Unforgettable Three Months at ENoK–October 13 2020

(The following message is the third and last of the series from three North Korean defectors that spent the early months of 2020 at ENoK. Their words were originally in Korean and have been translated into English by ENoK staff.)I want to cherish each day I spent at ENoK where I first started to enjoy learning English.I decided to go to Chicago because I wanted to overcome my fear of learning English. I simply wanted to overcome this fear and begin to enjoy learning English.It was not an easy process for me to clear my plan to make this trip possible. There was also a lot of advice from others against this trip, but I was determined and finally got on the flight bound for America.A few minutes after the arrival at the airport, someone came to pick us up. I had no idea that he was going to be one of the teachers. For he looked so young, so I thought he was simply taking us to our living quarters. But everything was beyond my imagination.Chicago was very cold. The first day, the director of the program gave us a ton of vocabulary to memorize. I was dumbstruck by the sheer amount. Nonetheless, I studied hard, and I have no regrets. I am still amazed that I was able to memorize 60 vocabulary words each day…When I think about my days back in Chicago, each day was spent so productively.When I heard about the reason this program was started, the reason some teachers and volunteers began to help people like us, I could not stop crying. I don’t think I had ever cried that much before. I cried for four days straight, to the point that my eyes became swollen. My heart was touched like no other time. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry.I am crying again as I write this message. I continue to cry without stopping whenever I think about that time…I will never forget the people I met through ENoK. I am incredibly grateful. I am not sure how I can ever express my gratitude fully.I wrote a few journal entries while I was at ENoK. When I open the journal again back here in South Korea, there was just one theme. Gratitude.God showed His love through the people at ENoK. More accurately, I could feel God’s love through the people serving at ENoK.Every day, I thanked God, “Thank you for sending me great mentors.”Through my time at ENoK, I was able to improve my English and start to enjoy learning English. So much more than I had ever expected…– E

Message from Angela–October 13 2020

(The following message is the second of the series from three North Korean defectors that spent the early months of 2020 at ENoK. Their words were originally in Korean and have been translated into English by ENoK staff.)When I was leaving for Chicago to join ENoK, the circumstances were not good. I lacked rudimentary knowledge of English and barely had any money to buy the flight ticket. Against so many people’s advice against it, I decided to leave for Chicago because I yearned to learn more. I thought I had given up so much in order to make this possible. But now that I have finished my time in Chicago and come back to South Korea, I realize that I have gained so much more than I have lost because of my time in Chicago. It opened my eyes to new things and broadened my perspective.I am not sure how others study, but I believe teachers and the study environment are important as one can only achieve so much on her own. What I realized during this program is that a strict teacher, who is willing to speak the truth with a genuine interest in my learning and who is unyielding in terms of academic expectations, is crucial for someone like me, a North Korean wanting to start studying at this rather late stage.I cannot tell how much my English has improved, but people around me keep telling me that I have improved a lot, so I would like to believe them. During the three months I learned from the wonderful teachers, I believe I also learned the wonderful character that my teachers exemplified for me. Before leaving for Chicago, I felt as though the universe was conspiring against me. Through my time at the program, however, I was able to think more deeply about my life forward and gain the courage to try new things. I seem to have rambled a bit, but I just cannot express how great this program was, so I feel a bit overwhelmed now. I would like to say that should anybody participate in this program, one can feel assured that he or she will at least not regret. I can guarantee that even if you think you are a bit slow in learning, you will come out of the program with greater confidence in your abilities, dreams and passion.– A

Message from Joy–October 13 2020

(The following series are from the three North Korean defectors that joined us during the winter and spring of 2020 from South Korea. Their words were originally in Korean and have been translated into English by ENoK staff.)I began studying English with the hope of helping more people understand North Korea. At first, I and two other girls planned to stay in America for six months when we first went to Chicago.We lived near the University of Chicago campus and learned from many volunteers who taught us in libraries and nearby cafes. We worked on grammar, conversations, vocabulary, and reading skills. When March came, however, because of COVID-19, we had to change all of our lessons to online sessions.In a way, it was unfortunate that we could not explore downtown or go outside much at all because of coronavirus. However, in exchange, we got to spend more time talking with and learning about each other.– J

Empower House Graduate Weds a Former Volunteer!– October 13 2020

Wedding Photos Luke&Shinhae-103

(The message below was written by a former ENoK volunteer about his marriage to a former NK refugee student at Empower House.)It still feels a bit surreal that I am a married man. It’s already been ten months! My wife and I began dating early last year, but the journey to our wedding happened *so* *much* faster than we had imagined. We got to know each other through ENoK, after she enrolled in the Empower house program in 2014 and built our friendship – slowly but surely – on authentic conversations and squash workouts. I found that we have shared experiences and worldviews that made it easy to feel connected with each other. She came to be a close friend and confidant as I struggled with my identities, work, difficult life questions, and everything else. I admired her for the wise woman that she is, always giving fresh perspectives and positive energy.Our wedding happened last November in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where I spent most of my childhood. We had a small wedding with family, mentors, and a few close friends. We planned the wedding in just two months! It was super hectic, but we pulled it off. (And also, thank goodness we made it happen last year just before the pandemic) My wife’s adoptive parents flew in from South Korea and blessed our union, which we were most grateful for. Several of our friends came from places as far as UAE and UK,, and many friends sent in beautiful letters and messages in lieu of attendance.We’ve settled in and grown a lot as a couple after our wedding. A pandemic happened, followed by a lockdown, and then we were almost forced to spend so much time together in a confined space that is our studio apartment in Chicago. For some couples, it’s not the best thing in the world to lose individual space, but for us, it gave us a time to understand and love each other more deeply. We still go through the normal ups and downs of life as husband and wife, but after every challenge we feel more bonded and our commitment renewed – that’s how we know we’ve been made for each other. We’re happy to report that we’re living a fulfilling married life.My wife recently graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary and myself from the University of Chicago. This season of graduation meant a lot to us especially because it was my wife’s first graduation, ever. Even though the ceremonies were virtual, it was a truly special moment. My wife is extremely grateful to everyone who has helped her to be here today. At McCormick, she found a community of international students she loves and now works as a program assistant to a professor there. I found my next job at the University of Chicago so we will be here in Chicago, for the foreseeable future.

Greetings from Hailey!–December 25 2019

(Hailey (alias) was a North Korean refugee resident at Empower House until this past spring. In the summer, she left to start college in another state. ENoK has continued to work with her remotely by providing scholarship support as well as academic support for her schoolwork. We are very proud of her accomplishment (straight As) during her first semester, and we look forward to being part of her remaining journey throughout her college years.)Below, Hailey shares her memories with ENoK.===========================================I am very excited that I have completed the first semester in college with good grades. The ENoK organization continues to provide NK refugees support to achieve higher education like me, who were not able to learn much in North Korea. I was able to earn good grades this past semester, helping me get closer to my goals in the United States. In particular, I appreciate the tutors who have worked with me through ENoK, for their dedicated time to help my English skills and guide me toward completing my degree. I would like to also thank my tutors who helped me during my time at ENoK’s Empower House in the spring earlier this year. What I learned through them helped me become more comfortable working on my current assignments.With a tutor during her time at Empower Housewith a tutor during her time at empower house
I remember the extracurricular activities we did with some of the tutors. I really enjoyed them, and they helped me become closer to my tutors and other North Korean refugee studentsWith tutors and other North Korean refugee students, taken in Empower House, before her departurewith tutors and other North Korean refugee students, taken in empower house, before her departure

Empower House Student Graduates from High School and Begins College!–October 9 2019

Hi, my name is Rachel (Alias).I still cannot believe that I finally graduated from four years of high school. I must thank many people for their care and support. I came to the US as a minor with no biological family around. Yet there were many people who helped since I first arrived here.ENoK has guided me through the last year of my high school career as well as the first semester in college. Each and every teacher was a blessing to me. They have helped me learn and supported my dreams. Even when I felt discouraged, my teachers at ENoK talked to me like friends, and I could consult them with any matter. With the help of these wonderful people, I was able to finish my last semester of high school with mostly As. I am forever grateful for their time and effort in working with me. To me, ENoK will always remain a place that has given me the path to learning.Now I am in college, and I have begun to feel that the courses become harder and harder. Many times I found myself crying in my car. But during these low points, my ENoK teachers encouraged me and helped me continue pursuing higher education, including working on scholarship applications with me. I am so happy, grateful, and honored to be one of the recipients of George Bush Scholarship and have had thechance to meet the former President.


Interview with a New North Korean Refugee Joining Empower House (SK)–November 12 2018

Q. What is your goal in joining Empower House?A. I would like to pass the GED (U.S. high school diploma equivalency exam)Q. What made you decide to join Empower House?A. As I lived in America, many people asked me whether I graduated from high school.Q. What would you like to do after your time in Empower House?A. I am going to explore options as I learn more throughout the year at Empower House!

Interview with a new north Korean Refugee Joining Empower House (HK)–November 12 2018

Q. What would you like to achieve by joining our program?A. I hope to learn English and other subjects through a good systematic program.Q. Why made you decide to join Empower House?A. Other North Korean refugees that previously took part in Empower House recommended the program to me for its customized programming tailored to each individual’s need.Q. After you finish your time at Empower House, what do you hope to do?A. I would like to do work that uses what I was able to learn at Empower House. For example, I would like to be able to support other refugee demographics, serve the church as an instrumentalist, and work as a tour guide. I want to follow the footsteps of ENoK’s many staff and volunteers who make this program possible by helping others in need.

Our Newest North Korean American!! On Receiving her Citizenship–September 14 2018

Everyone has their homeland and becomes a citizen of the country when they are old enough. I also have my homeland where I was born, but I do not have the citizenship of my country because I fled from the land to China to have freedom.  I was 17 years old then. It was before I realized how vital my nationality and identification that I could show where I was born and who I am was. When I realized their importance, I was already terrified by the reality that I didn’t have any identification to show. The only status that I had was as a woman from North Korea that escaped from a communist country and lived in China with no documentation. I also could not reveal my nationality because I was a defector.I became a citizen of the United States in nine years after going through a long period of not having an identity and applying for a refugee. Being a US citizen for someone might be a pleasant, exiting and meaningful moment to celebrate, but being a US citizen for me is like enjoying joy and pain at the same time. The identification and citizenship that I received from the United States government represent my journey to get here for freedom. It is more than just an ID or passport that I can show when I drive or travel, but it represents what I have been through and who I am today here.I sincerely appreciate the United States, my second homeland, for giving me the opportunity to live a better life that everyone in this world equally deserves. Therefore, I will not hesitate to serve this nation when it needs me, and I will be glad to add help for peace in my second homeland where I found my own peace, hope, and dream.

Married Couple from Empower House!!–September 14 2018

What better moments are there for us, ENoK, than to witness two North Korean refugees in our program begin a relationship during their stay at Empower House and finally get married after finishing our program!?Here are a few words from the bridegroom:It has been a long time since I updated about my life after finishing ENoK House program. Thanks to ENoK, I am currently in college. I know that some of our teachers from ENoK have gone away, even abroad outside of the U.S., far away from EnoK House now, but I do not think the distance can remove our memories of your support and help that changed our lives.There is another reason that I am writing this message. Since I attended the program, as many of you all know, my life has been changed dramatically. It is not only that I have become a college student, but also, I have gotten married. Proudly, I met my wife at the ENoK House program while studying for the GED. ENoK House means a lot to both of us since our lives were completely transformed by the program. We got married this past summer with the blessings of our friends and teachers. We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for your time and support devoted to our wedding. After attending college, personally I realized that how hard it is to help others while taking college courses. I am grateful that I was able to come to Chicago at the same time as ENoK program started. I believe that it was not a coincidental event. Both of us are grateful to the program and volunteers for making our wedding possible. We are always grateful to all the teachers from ENoK.

Introducing Our New Empower House Director!–July 21 2017

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.

Update from a Former Empower House Student, Now in College!–June 7 2017

(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 democratic system, but understand the people of America and their sympathy. During the arduous journey across many countries, I never thought of giving up my hope in education—my American dream. As a refugee, I arrived in U.S, with only a pair of socks in my pockets, but full of excitement and hope. At that moment, I could not speak any English, nor could I understand the American society, especially when it came to communicating with other Americans: not only was it a problem of limited English, but I had been taught differently in a different culture. Also, it was shameful to admit that I was not able to solve an elementary level math problem.As soon as I settled down in a remote city in a XXXX, I realized that there are limitations in pursuing my dream, such as finding jobs, let alone following the American dream in education. The reality seemed more forceful than my American dream. Among many college graduates, I became more miserable than before because of my reality, and my dream seemed void.However, I was not aware of the Americans, Korean communities and nonprofit organizations, such as ENoK that helped refugees. The existence of such great communities and organizations have encouraged me to follow my dream in education despite my low level of education and situation. After participating in ENoK program, I was able to attain GED within two years under the instruction of the great teaching staffs and volunteers.Even though my dream was started from nothing in North Korea, it led me to escape from North Korea to a great country, United States, and to college. I never expected to be a college student in the U.S when I was homeless in China, but my hope and the help from people made my dream possible. As soon as I realized the American values, my perspective was changed from criticizing capitalism to wanting to improve the American society and its values further through my education.Right now, my dream is not only studying in a college but working for refugees and communities in order to practice the American values and improve the communities. Now, I believe that America is strong, not because of its system and military power, but the people and communities that share and perpetuate the value of sympathy and education, which made my dream possible.So, every moment and every homework in college are precious for me because I had struggled to be a college student for decades by risking my life and taking lifelong separation with my family. The time in college is a gift for me because still many refugees are struggling for life let alone education. Especially when I deliver presentations in front of the many students in college, it is like a dream because I never imagined doing this when I was homeless in China, and I never thought of helping and working for other people.Without ENoK, I would live as a refugee without realizing the American value and my potential through education. ENoK stands for North Koreans but I believe that ENoK represents the American values, and it is a great asset to American society. I am confident for my future and excited to meet my adventures. Also, I am grateful to ENoK for providing a chance to escape from Plato’s Cave. I am grateful to many supporters of ENoK that inspires many North Korean refugees and our community.

A Few Words of Wisdom from Empower House Director–May 18 2017

(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 would be quite dissatisfactory to merely say, “Oh, I work at an NGO.”On that note, my job is rather unconventional. As the In-House Director of Empower House, I have been living with a number of North Korean refugees, overseeing the daily operations of the program, and working with a wide range of volunteers in the Chicago area who share this core interest of helping North Korean refugees resettle in America. There are aspects of this job, however, that go much deeper than these seemingly superficial professional duties. It requires sensitivity — some degree of understanding and recognition that these Empower House students might have gone through atrocious experiences. The narrative of each refugee is, of course, different, but it is well conceivable that they may be internally suffering from the residual emotional and/or physical issues from the past. Whether they share their narratives should solely depend on their autonomy. It should be perfectly understandable that some of them would feel uncomfortable sharing their past. Thus, an element of my job involves fostering a sense of safe space in the house.While being sensitive and respecting privacy are important, it is also crucial not to unnecessarily victimize them. It could be tempting to assume that, because of their background, they just do not know certain things about life or they need our help. However, mentally imposing that kind of assumption may unintentionally reduce them to mere victims of atrocities. The students at Empower House are studious, and they are working incredibly hard to escape from the label that shackles them as refugees. I value their independent thoughts, and I consider my role not so much as a leader but more as a supporter.

Sylvie’s Visit to GW Bush Center–December 31 2016

[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 also imagined them living in a luxurious lifestyle, but according to director Schnetzer, they live like any ordinary Americans. They might have security service agents following their every move, but besides that, I heard they live normal lives. In North Korea, such a humble life of a powerful couple is unthinkable. Even a distant relative of the Kim family lives in a highly respected, comfortable life, and ordinary citizens are ordered to respect them. Compared to North Korea, I couldn’t believe that the former president and first lady of the most powerful country on earth were so modest. It was a big honor to shake hands, hug and converse with them. I will remember this moment so I can stay humble and modest as I pursue my academic goals.After the conference, I toured the Bush Center museum and learned the legacy of the former president. I was inspired by his accomplishment of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. By this legislative act, he opened the door to freedom to 200 refugees, including myself, who safely defected to the US. I am grateful for his continued care for North Koreans, hosting conferences, launching a scholarship program and ultimately giving a hope to young defectors to achieve our dreams.

Jonathan’s Visit to GW Bush Center–December 31 2016

[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. Bush Center regards North Korea defectors and Korean-American community as important people for North Korean Human rights and the future of Korean Peninsula which is related to the national security of the United States. President George W. Bush inspires people especially in Korean-American community and the North Korean defectors to work together with him to improve the human condition in North Korea and help North Korean students who study in the United States. During the conference, I am inspired to follow my academic goals for the future, but without the help from ENoK, I would not be there as a student.As many people, I am grateful to ENoK’s Empower House for teaching and leading me to attend a college and the opportunity to participate in the great conference in Bush Center. Through the intense program, ENoK helped me attain GED after studying 22 months. At the beginning of the ENoK program, I could not solve a fraction problem and could not write a complete English sentence. Many people say that it is a miracle to get GED in such a short time, and I strongly agree with them because ENoK program represents a miracle for North Korean people and the future of the North Korean community. Before attending ENoK program, I was afraid of and insecure about studying English and GED because I barely graduated from elementary school in North Korea. But as soon as I entered the program, I was able to find my potential in myself and gain confidence for my future. ENoK program is the house for North Korean defectors who are eager to succeed in American society, and who are uncertain and insecure about their future in the United States.The conference in Bush Center inspires many people (who have freedom and respect human rights) to improve human conditions in North Korea and help North Korean students pursue academic goals in the United States. I am grateful to ENoK and former president George W. Bush for working for North Koreans and human freedom. Especially I admire ENoK program for recognizing the significance of education and putting its principle into practice many years ago.

Former Empower House Refugee Student, Now a Master’s Student–November 9 2016

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 to be able to listen to lectures and talk to my classmates all in English while learning new knowledge among people with diverse backgrounds every day.I choose to study in a theological seminary because of my experience in China. When I was in despair and lost all hope, a Korean missionary saved my life. I was touched by his sacrifice and decided this path so one day I can also help others as well.I am here today largely because of ENoK’s teachers and supporters. I’m also grateful for the way my school tries to help students whose first language is not English.I admit, graduate study is not easy, but to me it’s as valuable as it is challenging.Thank you all who have supported me thus far to have this opportunity.

Introducing the Newest North Korean American–October 6 2016

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 studying with the citizenship and precious freedom I attained in the States.I thank God for giving many generous people who continue to support me and other North Koreans. I am ever more assured that God will always be the hope for our people, and one day he will use us to change North Korea.I also want to thank ENoK, especially its legal counsel, and all of the Empower House volunteers that made the citizenship possible!

Introducing Our New Empower House Outreach Director–September 18 2016

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 others but also our own soul. I am not sure how God will lead each of our Empower House members, but I am certain that God will lead them according to His will. I am deeply grateful to be a part of ENoK. In conclusion, I hope for everything that I do at ENoK will glorify Christ’s name and that we show genuine love of Christ to our members.

Summer Interim Director at Empowerment House–September 18 2016

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 refugees scattered across the globe. After they escape the North Korean regime, they often face trials and tribulations such as unwelcoming governments, discrimination, and poverty among many others. MLK said, ”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is a critical, moral imperative for us to combat injustice and to help those in need anywhere it may occur. Even if the actions we take are small in the context of the vast North Korean refugee crisis, these actions are no less significant towards to a lasting solution and peace.I was inspired daily by the courage and tenacity of our North Korean students. They have a resolve that is rare for those who have endured life under such precarious circumstances. I have full confidence that they will excel in any field. If they choose to, they can also be also be keystones for a Korean reconciliation. I hope that people can offer whatever time or effort they can spare to help give our refugees a helping, caring hand. Every small act helps for a lasting solution to the refugee crisis and for peace in Korean peninsula.

Empower House Refugee Participant IX–August 19 2016

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 to Empower House, and right now I am studying under an ideal environment so that I can make the next leap in this new society.I feel incredibly grateful for the way God has prepared and guided all the paths for me till I finally came here to study. And of course, I am so grateful for all the people who are volunteering their time and resources at Empower House.Right now, my priority is English, and I would like to spend my time here learning about and weighing different opportunities available in this new country.Thank you very much, and I will do my best.THANK YOU!

Message from our Newest Bride–April 25 2016

Hi!I am 000, and I first arrived here in the States two years ago. At first, I struggled very much because of the language barrier. A few months after arriving in the States, I was able to learn English at Empower House run by ENoK, and what I learned while I was there has proven tremendously helpful since I started working outside.The reason I am writing this message is to let you know that I recently got married! It was not the easiest process getting married so soon after only a few months of dating. I had no idea how to prepare for a proper wedding. However, on the wedding day, so many people came to help decorate the venue and celebrate the occasion with me. Especially, many staff members, volunteers, and other North Korean refugee students from ENoK came to congratulate me and my husband. It still puts a smile on my face thinking about the wedding day. I would like to sincerely thank all the people at ENoK for taking precious time out of their busy schedule. I will continue to feel grateful and joyful! Thank you!

Empower House Refugee Participant VIII–March 30 2016

Q. How did you decide to join Empower House?A. It’s been three years since I first arrived in the United States. However, I still cannot communicate in English. So when I learned of Empower House, I did not hesitate a moment to drop everything I was doing and move into Empower House.I first chose America as my destination because I wanted to study here in order to expand and realize my dreams. However, I realized after coming here that the reality was quite different. At first, I tried to both work and study, but as time passed, I had to sacrifice my studies in order to make a living. And now, after three years, I still struggle to communicate.Then, one day, a gleam of hope presented itself when I first heard about the existence of Empower House. I heard about it through a friend, and this opportunity became my new hope and dream. I’m so grateful this once-in-a-life-time chance for me, and I would like to thank everyone who is helping to make this program possible. In return, all I can do is to do my utmost best.I hope to become a nurse one day. I will try hard so that I can give back and serve others myself in the future.

Message From Aimee (Alias)–March 22 2016

I felt many things while I was studying in Empower House. One of them was that the fact I was born in North Korea was not a curse as it has often seemed, but at times it rather strengthened me and helped me realize who I really was–discover my identity. There are of course times when it is hard having been born in North Korea, but I also know that it has invited more care and love from other people because I was born in North Korea. As one example, there are so many miracles that happen to me through people who have been like angels in my life. Even in North Korea, where I was born, opportunities for learning were limited, and it had been a while since the word, “study”, was erased from my vocabulary. Through Empower House, however, everything changed. For the past year and two months, I was able to study English through Empower House with the help of teachers and others who have supported us in various ways. Believe it or not, when I first joined Empower House, I could not read, write, listen, or translate any English. However, now, a year later, I am able to express myself in English, albeit in a limited fashion, and understand 70 percent of what I hear. I could not have achieved this without everyone’s help. How much I learned and improved my English at Empower House is obviously important, but more meaningfully, I would never forget the support from all the volunteers and donors who made this achievement possible.Empower House can be the effective program that it is, thanks to all the people who offer what they can in their present circumstances: some of them share their knowledge by teaching; others share their resources by donations, and; still others sacrifice their precious time so that we can focus on our own development. We cannot thank them enough, and I will never forget their loving care and dedication for us–for me. Everyone who was involved with Empower House was like each brick that builds the foundation of one person’s new life after resettling in a new country. For all of this, I would like to thank everyone again.

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview VII–September 28 2015

Questions and Answers with Ryan (Alias)Q1. What is your goal in participating in Empower House?I joined Empower House to prepare to take the GED and eventually prepare for college.Q2. What motivated you to participate in Empower House?I would like to start a new life in America. And one day, I would like to help people like me who are struggling and who are lost.Q3. What are some of the career paths that you would like to pursue?I will attend college after Empower House!

Introducing Our Summer Intern–June 26 2015

I am JC, a rising senior at Williams College and a current intern at Empower House. As a concentrator of public health, I have a particularly fervent interest in education and health policies for the vulnerable groups of individuals, such as immigrants and refugees, in our society. Last summer, I had the privilege of working with North Korean defectors at a school in South Korea, which was an eye-opening experience that led me to decide to pursue a similar line of work this summer in the U.S. I believe that understanding immigrants and refugees and embracing their cultures are crucial for not only creating a harmonious society but also promoting the effectiveness of medicine and public health policies in a heterogeneous population like that in the U.S. I found my philosophy to align well with the founding principles of ENoK and its Empower House, so I chose to work here.


As an in-house intern, I have been living with the students at Empower House, which has enabled me to forge close relationships with them. Though I am a Korean American, the issues of North Korea and the prospect of Korean reunification are important matters, and conversing with the students on various topics has enabled me to better conceptualize and understand their cultures. Outside of the social context, I have also been enjoying my work as an intern whether it be academic assistance or logistical management. My stay at Empower House has been truly educational, and it is my hope that this relatively new organization burgeons in the coming years.

Empower House 1st Graduate–June 26 2015

Hello, I am Sylvia (Alias), and I joined the Empower House program in Chicago as a student on September 27th, 2014. For the past eight months, I have gained some of the most memorable experiences through Empower House.After arriving in the U.S. in March 2008, I had to try very hard to obtain a high school diploma. During my four years in Northern Virginia, I worked full time while attending evening classes. However, it was not easy to handle both work and academics in my rather hectic life in America. After these four years, I had to prepare for the exam in hopes of receiving a diploma. Through God’s grace, I was able to complete everything but the English portion, which I found very challenging to pass. Thus, in order to pass the exam and receive a diploma, I joined the newly created Empower House program, directed by Andrew Hong from ENoK, in Chicago. Through the program, I was able to pass the exam this past May and receive my high school diploma.When I first started studying here, I was impatient, worrying when I would be able to achieve my goal. According to the Empower House daily schedule, I was supposed to focus on my studies from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., which I was not used to because I had been accustomed to spending eight hours a day working before I came to Chicago. However, I eventually learned how to study from the teachers, and I started to make progress. Seeing myself improving, I felt like I had the capacity to study and to learn, which was encouraging. I have never regretted my decision to pursue academics, but because of the hectic lifestyle in America, I had thought about giving up. However, Andrew reignited my passion, and the volunteer teachers at Empower House collectively changed my mind. They all have dedicated a lot of effort for the past eight months, and, because of their dedication, I am now more determined. I will persevere through any hardships in the future and continue to pursue academics. With plans to study at a college and, later, a graduate school, I have officially completed the Empower House program. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the volunteer teachers at Empower House and ENoK for giving me hope.Thank you.Sincerely,SylviaJune 25, 2015안녕하세요. 저는 지난 2014년 9월 27일, 시카고 Empower House program 에 참여 한 학생 Sylvia 입니다. 지난 8개월간 Empower House program 을 통해 저는 저의 인생에서 제일 잊지 못할 추억들을 쌓았습니다.지난 2008년 3월에 미국에 입국 한 이후로 미국 고등학교 등학교 졸업장을 받기 위해 많이 노력을 해 왔습니 다. 저는 북버지니아에서 지난 4년간 full time 일을 하면서 미국 고등학교 과정을 마치려고 야간 학교를 다녔습니다. 좌충우돌 미국 생활에서 일과 공부를 같이 겸해 하는 것이 쉬운 일이 아니었습니다. 4년뒤에 고등학교 졸업장을 받기 위해 시험공부를 했어야 했습니다. 다른 과제는 하나님의 은혜로 다 마쳤는데 미국에서 영어 시험을 통과 하기가 참 어려웠습니다. 시험을 통과 하고 졸업장을 받기 위해 저는 시카고에서 새로 시작한 임파워 하우스 프로그램에 참석 하게 되었습니다. 에녹단체 홍성환 대표님이 운영하고 있는 임파워 하우스 프로그램을 통해 지난 5월에 시험도 통과 하고, 고등학교 졸업장을 받았습니다.처음에 이 곳에서 공부를 시작할 때는 마음만 조급하고 언제 저의 목표 를 달성 할까 걱정이 앞섰었습니다. 임파워 하우스에서 지정해 준 스케줄에 따르면 아침 7부터 오후 5시까지 집중적으로 공부합니다. 시카고에 오기 전에는 매일과 같이 하루 8시간을 일 하는데 사용했던 저는 책상에 앉아 공부만 하는 것이 처음엔 적응 되지 않았었습니다. 하지만, 매일 만나는 선생님들을 통해 공부하는 방법을 터득하게 되었고, 하루하루 공부가 늘기 시작했습니다. 그런 저의 모습을 보면서 이렇게 느꼈습니다. 저도 공부를 할 수 있구나! 라고요. 그래서 다시 용기를 얻었습니다. 어릴 때부터 공부를 할 것이라고 결심 했던 저의 결정을 후회 하지 않습니다. 하지만, 힘든 좌충우돌 미국 생활에서 공부를 계속 하는 것은 힘들 것 같다고 포기 하려고 까지 생각했었습니다. 하지만, 다시금 저에게 신심을 심어준 에녹단체 홍성환 대표님으로부터 임파워 하우스 프로그램에 참여하여 봉사 해 주신 모든 선생님들께서 저의 생각을 바꾸어 주었습니다. 8개월간의 프로그램을 마칠 때까지 많은 수고를 해 주셨고, 그 수고들 덕분에 저는 다시 결심 했습니다. 앞으로 그 어떤 어려움이 올지라도, 또 얼마나 시간이 걸릴지 몰라도 꾸준히 공부를 할 것입니다. 앞으로 대학에도 입학하고, 대학원에도 진학 할 계획을 가지고 임파워 하우스 프로그램을 마칩니다. 훌륭한 프로그램으로 저에게 또 다시 희망을 심어 주신 에녹단체와 임파워 하우스 프로그램에 참여하여 봉사해 주신 모든 선생님들께 진심으로 다시 한번 감사드립니다.감사합니다.Sylvia6월 25 일 2015년

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview VI–December 30 2014

Questions and Answers with Aimee (Alias)

Q1. What is your goal in participating in Empower House?

To improve my English.

Q2. What motivated you to participate in Empower House?

I was introduced to this program through wonderful people who encouraged me to study.

Q3. What are some of the career paths that you would like to pursue?

 I would like to become a nurse, but that’s subject to change.

Q4. Final words?

I would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly for me and other students to be able to study here at Empower House.  I will do my best to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain.  Thank you, again.

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview V–December 24 2014

Questions and Answers with Ashley (Alias)

Q1. What is your goal in participating in Empower House?

I would like to improve my English.

Q2. What motivated you to participate in Empower House?

It has been very difficult living while I am unable to communicate in any way, which led me to decide to study English.  Then, I heard about Empower House, at which point I wanted to join the program.

Q3. What are some of the career paths that you would like to pursue?

My biggest hope is that I will be able to speak and understand English at the end of this program.  I would like to use the time and experience here to think about and determine what it is that I should do later.

Q4. Final words?

I will not forget what a blessing it is to me that I can go back to studying at this point, and I am grateful.  Though studying isn’t easy, because there are people who support me–pastors from different churches, teachers, and sponsors who encourage and pray for us behind the scene–I believe I can do this, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude!Thank you!

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview IV–November 17 2014

First of all, I am grateful to God that ENoK’s program has been set up and running within God’s plan. And I am grateful that I can participate in ENoK’s program as a student. I lift up all my vision before God in the midst of all that happens and all that I do, and I pray that I will do my best here with the best of my given abilities. Also, this is an opportunity that I had not even imagined before in my life. Rather than trying to be the best above others, I would like to use this opportunity to learn and do the best I can and realize the small dream in my heart. I am hopeful that God will bless this program more and thus, ENoK will provide care for more souls that are searching for ways to learn. For this very reason, I will do my own part by trying my hardest.-Lily (Alias)

Paige’s First Writing Assignment at Empower House(10/10/14)–October 13 2014

My First Week at Empower House

My name is Paige (Alias), and one of the students from the Empower House. Empower House is a learning program. Currently, we have four students, Lily, Claire, Jonathan (Aliases) and me. We all came from different states…[personal information deleted to protect their privacy]…I came from [ ] on [ ], 2014. I drove to Chicago on a [ ]day night. I met with Brian, he is a program director. I also met Andrew Hong, known as the president of ENoK and the father of Empower House. We had a dinner together at an Asian restaurant. Meal was very good, and we were talking about the weekly schedule while we were eating. According to the schedule, my first lesson is going to start on October 6, 2014.The first week of Chicago was wonderful. And I love new environment, it was awesome! My daily schedules were similar like my original schedules from [ ]. I’ve toured the campus of the University of Chicago with one of our teacher, whose name was Heeyoung. Campuses were beautiful, I liked it very much. I hoped to go to this school someday and study in classes like other students. Also, we went to the downtown of Chicago with roommates and our guide Jennifer. We took buses and talked a lot while we were sitting in the bus. We enjoyed tour very much. The downtown seemed very busy but it was beautiful. There were high buildings with so many different structures and designs. I must say, I was impressed by tall buildings, fresh air, big lake, and those beautiful natures. That was my first week in Chicago and it was awesome.

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview III–October 6 2014

I am Claire, who has recently joined ENoK’s Empower House program.It is still hard to believe that I am one of the first people to be part of Empower House’s beginning. I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I can start my studies here. I believe that it is only because of the effort and dedication of many people who have tirelessly worked for ENoK that I can now live and study in this place. After I first arrived in the U.S. in 2012, I had no opportunity to study because of the difficulties in making living even though I really wanted to study. It was my wish to study full-time as a student and also attend college, but I couldn’t do that. So I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this God-given opportunity, which is the fruit of the effort and dedication of everyone through ENoK. And I am going to learn as much as possible while I am here. I am sure there will be times when I feel burnt out and exhausted studying full-time, but I will always try my best remembering the care and support that so many people have given to provide for this opportunity. I would like to thank each and every supporter. I hope to continue to learn from all of you. I would like to learn as much as I can while I am here. Thank you.

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview II–August 25 2014

Questions and Answers with Jonathan (Alias)

Q1.  What is your goal in participating in Empower House? 

I want to study in college.  I wanted to go to college when I was still living in North Korea, but there was nothing I could do then because my family could hardly make a living each day.  I decided to participate in Empower House because it seemed possible now in America.

Q2. What motivated you to participate in Empower House? 

When I saw my friends go off to study in college, I envied them.  As I learned English, I started to think that I could also go on to college to study.  And I wanted to learn more in college.  That is why I applied to participate in Empower House.

Q3. What are some of the career paths that you would like to pursue?

 This is a difficult question… Because English is the main language here, learning English is the first thing on my mind right now, butonce I get a good handle on English, I would like to study societal laws.

Q4. Final words? 

I am grateful to ENoK and others for their care and love for the North Korean refugees even though there are only a handful of North Koreans right now in America.If it weren’t for organizations like ENoK, young North Koreans including myself would have been limited to dangerous and menial work in this unfamiliar country with a different language and culture, muchless ever dream of pursuing higher studies.  In this regard, this program does not only provide us with a shelter and food, but also gives us a chance to hope for a better future.
We all have dreams.  Thanks to this program, we can now study, and study we will do with the vision to help those who are even less fortunate and contribute toward making the world a better place.  I am sure other North Korean friends share this vision.If someone who never had a chance to dream can suddenly study with such a vision, though he or she may begin at the bottom, the opportunity itself is an invaluable product of many people’s care and work.  And thanks to such care and love, we will also change.When Empower House begins, I will study hard, and I would like to thank everyone and organizations like ENoK!

Would like to support Jonathan?  Support NOW!

Empower House Refugee Participant Interview I–May 13 2014

Questions and Answers with Sylvia (Alias)

Q1. What is your goal in participating in Empower House?

– To seek God’s plan in my life– To lay a good foundation for my future– To equip myself with tools to pursue my dreams– To improve the prospects of my future

Q2. What motivated you to participate in Empower House?

 – I had to give up high school when my family’s financial situation worsened– Without knowledge and a college diploma, it is difficult to pursue your dream in the current society– I didn’t want to give up a better future because of the difficulties in the present. I could see that if I did, I would repeat it again in the future, and I wanted to break this vicious cycle.

Q3. What are some of the career paths that you would like to pursue?

– International law– International relations– Chinese language professor– Biology– Dentistry (Periodontology)

Q4. Final words?

– I decided to participate in this program in order to give myself a chance for a new life and realize my dreams and hope……After knowing the staff of ENoK, I have come to believe that ENoK could be a stepping stone for me to achieve my dreams, and based on such confidence, I applied to join this program.”

Would like to support Sylvia?  Support NOW!

Starting Empower House–April 10 2014

Fourteen years ago, after a 19 hour flight that included a transfer at Anchorage, Alaska, I landed at Boston Logan Airport, not knowing a single person there and barely able to utter a coherent sentence in English. I still remember the first few months the distinctive scent of abundant grass in the United States still stirred excitement that I could play soccer on a grass field like professionals. I also remember when my poor understanding of English put me and a few of my friends in trouble at school.When I first spoke with Paige (alias) for the first time several years ago, I was surprised by her grasp of English. It had been only a couple of years since she entered the United States with refugee status. She could not have spent much time, if any, learning English (learning anything for that matter), for she had spent about a decade–her childhood and teenage years–hiding, being arrested, being sent to a political prison camp in North Korea, and re-escaping to China. She was living with her sister and mother, who came to the U.S. with her after losing four members of their family in North Korea due to starvation and suffering arbitrary punishment. Unlike her sister and mother, who did not seem comfortable with English, Paige understood and spoke English with relative ease. Maybe for this reason, despite being the youngest (not 20 yet), she had been working as the primary breadwinner of the family. Plus, because she had always dreamed of studying, she had been attending adult school in the evening after her daily job.My meeting with Paige triggered a series of reflections on my past and my roots. They forced me to remember the “good ol’ days,” when I would gladly spend four hours doing a school assignment that my peers could spend just under an hour, for I knew it was only necessary to make up for my limited English. I had totally forgotten and lost the passion and determination that had driven me to pick up an English vocabulary book and plow through the words when all my friends were playing basketball or playing video games.I have been Paige’s RealPal volunteer for the past year or so. During this time, I have learned that Paige barely has any time that is “free.” So oftentimes, just the fact that she showed up to our sessions and also did the assignments that I had asked her to complete seemed to be a miracle in itself. Through my experience working with Paige, I have come to realize how blessed I am and I have been. It is not just the usual, “I never had to suffer from a totalitarian regime. I never had to worry about not having enough food. I never had to worry about being sent to a political prison camp for no reason.” Yes, these are extremely important facts that make me a blessed person, but my personal friendship with Paige has made me realize that the extent of the blessings went deeper, farther, and wider than these extremities. Though I had many hiccups of my own growing up alone in the United States, after all, it was my own decision and my own wish to come to the United States all by myself. I had longed to grow up where I could both pursue academics and play sports as much as I wanted, and not only did my parents give me that opportunity, but they also sacrificed every minute and every penny so that I could receive the best education that I could receive.By the time I graduated from the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, I had long taken these blessings for granted. I only wanted to excel. I only wanted to be better than “that guy.” I only wanted to have an embellished resume. Luckily for me, Paige’s unrelenting positivism that she shows through her smiles and sense of gratitude helped me finally begin to come to my senses slowly. At the same time, it made me wonder how I could provide the same kind of opportunities that my parents had given me. Paige seemed to deserve what I had received much more than I. Being a spiritual person that I have been, I started to develop a conviction that the reason I had been blessed with such opportunities was that somehow I was meant to share the experience and expertise gained from these opportunities to those who would make the most out of them and would not take them for granted the way I have for such a long time.Empower House is a direct response to this calling, if I may. The staff of ENoK seek to pool the resources available in the University of Chicago and Hyde Park communities and in particular, exploit the strengths and knowledge of college and graduate students in providing an academic experience and opportunity that young aspiring North Korean refugees just like Paige could not have had otherwise.It is my sincere hope that anybody who has been generous to read this post can join us in our effort to provide our friends like Paige with an opportunity like no other, in which we truly believe. You may choose to contribute to our cause financially, which will certainly be appreciated deeply, but also, you are encouraged to volunteer a few hours of your time a week by serving as our refugee friends’ academic tutors and/or mentor-buddies. Please click here to go to the page where you may choose to donate online, or feel free send a check payable to “ENOK” to ENOK 5100 South Cornell Avenue, #705, Chicago, IL 60615. To volunteer, please submit your resume and a statement of interest (fewer than 300 words) to [email protected] H

Reflection on the Conference (by AW)– July 2 2013

When I first got involved in ENoK’s mission to help North Korean defectors while in college, I never thought I would be contributing to a cause as far-sighted and hopeful as envisioning a reunified Korea.  Back when I was a student member, I participated in a demonstration against the repatriation of defectors in China and a fasting fundraiser to support the group’s many promising plans to support the defectors who had settled in the United States.  But I never pictured myself engaging in an effort that not only addresses the needs that are imminent but also prepares for what is to come.  At the “Unification of the Mind” Conference that took place in D.C. two weekends ago, I met a large group of passionate people from the most unexpected places who gathered together to envision a reunified Korea.  Being part of this conference was truly life-changing.  Seeing people of different ages, experiences, nationalities, and professions come together to share personal thoughts, learn about each other, build relationships, and inform one another gave me hope that there already is a movement of ideas and great intentions preparing for the peaceful reunification.I arrived late on Friday night and couldn’t attend the Day 1 lectures, which, by the way, I heard was incredibly nourishing and insightful.  As a participant of this conference, I would like to thank the organizers once more for putting much thought into the conference and recruiting guest speakers who could elucidate reunification and post-reunification examples from the past and help us view the Korean reunification in a much richer and well-thought-out context.  Although I missed a good learning opportunity on Day 1, as I shared a room that night with two of my colleagues from Chicago and a new friend originally from North Korea, I knew the rest of this conference was going to be unforgettable to me.After a hearty breakfast and a brief introduction of all the participants, we began the morning problem-solving session on Day 2 of the conference.  I joined the “Welfare: Healthcare for New Korea” group due to my personal interest in the field of medicine and healthcare.  Everyone in our group actively engaged in discussions to come up with hypothetical solutions to many transitional problems related to healthcare that the North and the South will face as one nation.  Our group came to an agreement that the healthcare needs of the reunified Korea will need to be met in multiple phases (i.e. phase 1 addressing the immediate needs within hours after reunification, phase 2 addressing the intermediate needs within days to months after reunification, etc.).  Our discussions thrived because of the inputs from individuals representing such diverse experiences.  Those representing the view of Americans, those representing the view of Korean-Americans and South Koreans, and those representing the view of North Korean defectors – all proved to be essential for the purpose of our group.The most interesting part of our problem-solving activity came as we began thinking in detail about the kinds of help people in the North will need and be able to accept physically, culturally, and psychologically.  The personal accounts from the North Korean members of our group clarified many misunderstandings that the rest of us brought to the discussions and helped us identify sensible and sensitive plans to help the most vulnerable populations in the North and cooperate with the North Korean medical personnel for a collaborative care.  Through their story-telling, we recognized the importance of humility and communication that will be critical in providing a successful medical care to the populations in the North right after the reunification.  Furthermore, we talked about how complex healthcare reform will be for the reunified Korea.  As we thought through the complicated issue of meeting the medical and closely-related economic needs of North Koreans, integrating such a new group of individuals to the pre-existing social fabric of South Korea, and dealing with potential complaints and oppositions that will follow the expansion of welfare programs, we were reminded of the vast amount of work that lies ahead of us, even before the reunification takes place.For the afternoon problem-solving session, I led the “Society: Women’s Rights in Reunified Korea” group.  I had initially planned a very structured discussion based on facts and existing legal examples of violence against women.  Once the day started, however, I realized how much each member of the group had to offer and learned to trust the natural flow of ideas and stories to lead to our resolutions.  So I decided to only briefly inform the group of the background information I had prepared and left the rest of the discussion to the interesting opinions and ideas that were born out of diverse experiences.  Unlike the group I joined in the morning, my afternoon group had much younger members, including high school boys from South Korea.  As we spoke about the rampant sexual violence against women in South Korea and discussed concerns about the intensification of such violence against North Korean women after reunification, the young boys’ insights about the current sexual education in South Korea and the role of mass media in shaping the perception of gender roles added helpful and interesting layers to our understanding of the problems threatening the Korean women before and after the reunification.  Hearing such young, concerned voices in our issue-specific discussions about the two Koreas’ future made me smile often as I led the session.Instead of witnessing discordance across people representing different age groups, nationalities, and social environments, I saw a hopeful integration of diverse voices taking place at the “Unification of the Mind” conference.  And I realized that the key to preparing for Korea’s reunification is to make opportunities for communication and problem-solving exercise like this more widely accessible to various groups of people.  It is difficult to convey all the emotions and reflections that I was able to experience within a short yet incredibly fruitful day of communicating with people I met for the first time and won’t forget for my lifetime.  I have been a lazy supporter of the truly needed efforts that ENoK has made persistently over the years.  I thank the organizers of the conference for reminding me that it is important for individuals with love for Korea, regardless of their age, background, or skills, to give attention to such efforts with a greater sense of responsibility and alertness. -Alice Hyewon Won

Group Pic

Unification of the Mind!–June 30 2013

-SPOur conference this past weekend was titled the Unification of the Mind: Envisioning a Reunified Korea. For the sake of our vision, we decided to assume reunification. With this assumption, participants collaborated in groups to solve hypothetical problems that a reunified Korea would encounter. These problem-solving activities occupied the entire second day of the conference. As one of the conference organizers, I led the “Education” problem-solving group during the morning session and the “National Security” problem-solving group for the afternoon session. These problem-solving activities brought together Korean-Americans, South Koreans, North Koreans, and Americans in an enriching experience of sharing and listening, informing and being informed, educating and being educated. The problem-solving groups were designed to provide an interactive space for individuals from various backgrounds- but who have interest in the Korean reunification- to exchange ideas and come to a solution to their given problem as a team. For many of the problems that required extensive knowledge of North Korea, our North Korean friends proved to be invaluable. Their knowledge and experience of their homeland contributed to their groups’ efforts.To give you a glimpse of what went down on Saturday, the “Transportation” group’s presentation of their solution to the issue of building a peninsula-wide network of transportation across a reunified Korea relied on the critical knowledge of the North Korean participants. Much to our surprise, one North Korean participant reported that several airports outside of Pyongyang already exist and they can serve as foundations for air transportation during the early years of reunification, to reduce expenditure. In the “Education” group, high school students, college students, and recent college graduates presented the standards of learning and curriculum for a hypothetical school district in reunified Korea.What set the tone for this (rather successful if I daresay) second day of the conference was the lectures by two George Washington University professors that took place on Friday evening. The first day of the UotM Conference kicked off with two feature lectures by Professor Mary Beth Stein and Professor Shawn McHale who did us a great honor by accepting our invitation. Our vision for this first day was to contextualize the Korean reunification with historical examples of national reunification, namely Germany and Vietnam.Professor Stein grounded us first with an overview of the quite sudden reunification that took place between East and West Germany. She opened by telling us of a saying. The barriers in one’s mind are harder to break down than physical walls. Germany is now a single state but has yet to achieve national cohesion- in other words, a unity of the mind. A lot of this had to do with the socio-cultural dimension of reunification. What the Germans could have done better were: 1.) reconsider unrealistic expectations of a speedy reconciliation; 2.) better appreciate the rapid changes in the lives of former East Germans; 3.) better anticipate diverse political and cultural issues; and 4.) recognize demands for unification and reconciling with its Communist past.Professor McHale briefly covered Vietnam’s colonial history and began his lecture with the triumph of Communist Vietnam over its Southern counterpart. Vietnam’s reunification came about through military force; South Vietnam collapsed and North Vietnam swept south with troops. Throughout his lecture, Professor McHale emphasized the need to question the justness of the victors’. In other words, if Korea were to follow Germany and Vietnam, where one regime triumphs, will the victors be able to restrain themselves? In Vietnam, the triumphant regime harshly imposed their system over the South, imprisoning and “reeducating” any dissidents. McHale called the period from 1975 to 1986 the Victors’ Justice. The Communists “were drunk of victory” and while there wasn’t a tremendous bloodbath, North Vietnam suppressed all potential enemies.Many similar thematic strands ran through both Professor Stein and Professor McHale’s presentations, but what impressed the conference most was the message for humility. What Korea can learn from Germany is, in the case of an absorption-style unification, to recognize the dignity of North Koreans and their Communist past. In a reunified Korea, both Koreas should approach each other as equal partners in building a new future- rather than a benefactor / beneficiary relationship. As a fellow Asian nation which also shares a post-colonial experience, Vietnam should serve as an important lesson for Korea. Given South Korea’s economic and industrial success over North Korea, a plan for absorbing North Korea into the Republic of Korea should not be taken lightly or for granted. Careful thought must be given to how much the dominant regime will impose their system over the other. Without careful planning and reflection, reunification can easily fall from being a joyous occasion to a draconian one.Since the 1990s, micro-reunification has been occurring in Korea as North Korean defectors have been assimilating into South Korea. Their resettlement process has been the focus of many sociological works detailing their struggles and challenges. What the Unification of the Mind Conference taught me personally is that both now and in the future, it should not just be North Koreans who need to adapt to a new system. Rather, South Koreans must also be willing to adapt, meaning that the new, reunified Korea will not be a larger South Korea but a new Korean nation that will pride itself in the North Korean and South Korean heritage.

June 21, 2013- Group photo with Professor Mary Beth Stein and Professor Shawn McHale. (Many participants not pictured.)

June 21, 2013- Group photo with Professor Mary Beth Stein and Professor Shawn McHale.(Many participants not pictured.)

Introducing the RealPal Program!–April 1 2013

My name is Somhang “Hope” Kim and I am currently serving as the director of ENoK’s RealPal Program. Before I introduce RealPal, I want to talk a bit about my pal, Steven.Steven is from Hamhung province, which is very famous for its mul-nangmeon (traditional Korean cold noodles). He defected when he was just a 16-year-old boy looking for his mother who had defected 2 years earlier. His defection story is truly miraculous, but today I want to focus not on the past, but on the present— on how Steven has changed my life.I first met Steven through a close friend of mine. He told me when he first heard that I was here to help him with his English, he was walking in circles in his living room, not knowing what to do. He was that much excited. That excitement never faded, developing our class times into a more genuine friendship. He was always so eager to learn, to speak up, and to even make mistakes if it helped him in some ways.At first, I was curious as to why he was always so enthusiastic. I thought that since he goes to the most prestigious university in South Korea, maybe this was a habit of his own. Then, I thought since his father, who Steven thinks has passed away, went to not one but two! prestigious universities in North Korea, he learned the value of education. But I learned the true story when Steven shared his resettlement stories in South Korea.For two years in his life, resting only two days a month, he worked all day at a gas station pumping gas and washing cars to make ends meet. He had first moved to Seoul by himself looking for a dream of his own but ended up in a gas station. He didn’t despair though, because he could have never dreamed of anything close to going to college. Working at a gas station was all he knew— that was, in a way, a dream of his own because he was doing something in his life. But two years later, having worked himself to his bones, he realized he was going nowhere. He life was on a flat line. Then he quit his job and enrolled in a GED class. Steven and Hope (alias)From then on, Steven’s Inbok (a luck through personal connections) kicked in. He met a mentor who took him in and lived with him for a year learning how to study. He passed the GED and was accepted into Seoul National University. Then, he was also recognized by schools and other foundations that gave generous scholarships, which allowed him to focus on his studies. I wondered if I had really been this enthusiastic about going to class back in college— no, because I loved skipping classes. I wondered if a university diploma was this valuable to me— another big no, because I didn’t even walk.Steven taught me a value in life I hadn’t thought of before. He taught me how blessed I am to have a loving family, to have received good education, and to have freedom to express my own dreams. He taught me to cherish my relations with others who constitute my own Inbok. And most importantly, he taught my heart what a joy it is to give abundantly of what little that I have.RealPal reflects the philosophy of ENoK’s mission to serve North Korean defectors, not as “teachers,” “sponsors,” or “benefactors,” but as their genuine friends, brothers, and sisters. The “pals” do not receive any compensation for the time and commitment, except the defectors’ friendship, which we value most.Currently, we hold regular ESL classes for a number of North Korean defectors living all across the world, catering to each individual’s specific needs and wants. The RealPal program is not limited to ESL services but also includes guidance counseling, tutoring for other school subjects, and standardized test prep, among other things. Depending on the location of the defectors’ current residence and that of available “Pals,” our sessions are either held in person or online using video-chatting services such as Skype.I’ve now known Steven for almost three months now. Within these three months, we’ve talked about topics ranging from romantic relationships and other shallow topics to hardcore issues like the unification of Koreas and possible nuclear wars. But I know now that it’s not Steven’s Inbok that brought us together, but mine. I am so very much blessed to have met Steven. My life has transformed after meeting him!In the end, RealPal is not a one-way relation but a two-way connection between the defectors and pals as we learn from one another. I really hope that our RealPal program will continue to achieve this “Unification of Mind” between North Korean defectors and South Korean Americans. We are always in need of volunteers who want to create this once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience. I sincerely hope you can join us with one heart and one mind for these brothers and sisters who are no longer too far from us.Love,Hope
Andrew and Grace (alias)Andrew and Grace (alias)

My Encounter with a North Korean Celebrity–Mar 27 2013

By Andrew H.As I skidded in my dress shoes down the underground pathway between terminals at Chicago O’Hare Airport, my heart was leaping with expectation of seeing a “celebrity” whom I have watched only on T.V. countless times. I couldn’t believe she was actually here.I knew I was looking for a young woman of a small frame. When I finally found her, there was no mistake. She looked just as she did on T.V., except with a different hairstyle.Eunju is one of 25,000 North Korean defectors now living as South Korean citizens. She is one of a handful of young, attractive North Korean defector women who are featured on a South Korean talk show called “Meet Now.”(Poster for "Meet Now")(Poster for “Meet Now”)Eunju is from Eunduk, North Hamkyung Province, North Korea. She is from a-o-ji, an area which is well-known to South Koreans for its mining field, to which political dissidents and anyone discovered with any kind of “fault” by the North Korean regime are apparently sent/excommunicated to engage in brutal, dangerous forced labor. When I asked her about the truth behind this information amongst South Koreans, Eunju told me that nowadays, not as many people are sent to a-o-ji mining field, but to “other places”……I don’t think it would be totally wrong to say that among the featured North Korean women, Eunju might be the one whose life was most difficult back in North Korea. Her mom appeared on the show with her one week, and she shared that when there came a point they had absolutely nothing but a cob of corn to eat (Eunju’s father had died of malnutrition), she left Eunju behind at home to look for food. Before she left, she gave Eunju the cob of corn and asked her to eat a certain number of kernels each meal so that Eunju can survive till she comes back with food. But Eunju’s mom couldn’t find much food. When she finally gave up searching and came back home, it was already well past the day that she had told Eunju that she would come back. Eunju’s mother found Eunju lying down with no energy to speak. Next to her was a letter written in Eunju’s handwriting,“Mom, I am so sorry I can’t keep fighting anymore. I don’t think I can survive any more. I am so sorry.”Eunju’s mom couldn’t help breaking down seeing her second daughter writing a letter of apology when she could have well cursed the world for making her be born to such a poor family.What broke my heart was what she shared next. Their neighbors told Eunju’s mother, “Why do you keep your children by your side when it’s hard enough for you to take care of yourself? They are all grown up (they were still in grade school). They can take care of themselves.” Then, Eunju’s mother did something that she would regret to death and plead for forgiveness from her two daughters. She told them, “Go find your own way now.” Eunju and her older sister cried, “Why are you doing this?” Nonetheless, she left. Eunju’s mother walked for a couple of hours, but she couldn’t forget the fear in her daughters’ eyes. So she turned back and walked back to where she had left them, not knowing where they could be now. However, when she finally arrived where she had left them, they were still there. She was both thankful and heartbroken: “My little precious. They didn’t know where else to go. They just stayed where they had been left behind.”Eunju shared, “But I always knew that my mom loved me. Although we were so poor, I had never really known cold because whenever there was anything, anything like plastic bag that one could use for warmth, she always covered me with it…”I’m not very good gauging people’s height, but Eunju has a very small frame, and her mother complained that in South Korea, Eunju always goes out everywhere with flip-flops instead of stylish high heels. She complained if Eunju were tall like South Korean girls, it wouldn’t be so bad, but she, being short, should try to make up for her short height with high heels. This rang very dear to my heart for two reasons. First of all, I myself am a quite short person. And my mom often complains to me that I should try to be better dressed. And one time I asked her why she cares so much, and she said, “It’s because I don’t want tall, big Americans to belittle my son as one of those short Asian guys.” I was hurt when my mom said that. But listening to Eunju’s mother say a similar thing, I realized how heartbroken Eunju’s mother must feel seeing Eunju, who couldn’t even grow taller than her mother herself, because she couldn’t feed her. When I stood by Eunju while we were marching across Chicago downtown to be the voice that our North Korean brothers and sisters couldn’t make themselves, I was more than proud to be short just like her although the reason I was short wasn’t because I wasn’t well-fed like her. On “Meet Now,” I have seen Eunju cry, laugh, dance, and make jokes. It amazes me how someone with such a difficult and unfair past and painful memories, could retain hope, her capacity for compassion, and a sense of humor. That in itself seems enough for me to call her a “hero,” a living witness of humanity… She might be small in her physical frame, but her heart must be as great as the Lake Michigan that I am looking at as I write.“Uh huh,” says Eunju on her phone. Her fluid conversation with her new American friends (btw, whom she had been taught to consider as enemies in North Korea) is more than shocking to a 1.5 generation Korean-American who has had 12 years to work on my English. She came to South Korea not many years ago, and she started learning English even later. It is my hope that there will be many more to follow Eunju’s footsteps and become the same inspiration that Eunju is to me to many other struggling people in the world.I cannot express how much I appreciated her coming to participate in the protest against forced repatriation of North Korean defectors caught in China, which leads to imprisonment, torture, forced labor, and occasionally public executions. It is most difficult for North Korean defectors to revisit their painful past, not to mention speak about it in public. I thank her so much for her courage and compassion for those who are in the same situation as she was before, and for trusting me.“You know I still can’t believe you are here. It’s like seeing a celebrity!” I said.“No, don’t say that. I am not a celebrity.”Well, to me Eunju was someone I would have chosen to have the honor to meet over any other celebrities I know of.

31 For 31–Feb 2nd 2013

Between May 10th and 11th, ENoK members and volunteers fasted for 31 hours for the 31 recently repatriated North Korean refugees and raised over $2500 in donations. All proceeds will go to supporting North Korean refugees in the United States.