Eunkoo Lee, Eunhee Park and I flew to Jeju to give a series of speeches at an international school. It may sound glamorous, but we had to work hard for the free tickets and hotel. Was it five groups of students, teachers and staff that we met with yesterday? Or was it six?

Our main organizer is a high school student who came across TNKR during a Google search. She contacted me, then came to visit TNKR last year along with her brother Jason.

Emily was the leader of a team that helped organize our talks and raised money for TNKR. Even when there is a great idea, it takes at least one person to push to keep the momentum going. A team is usually needed to get things done. We didn’t meet teachers related to this later on. A high school student proposed the idea, negotiated the deal directly with us, was responsible for everything except things such as booking tickets and the hotel for us.

We were talking all day. It was more of Q&A rather than full speeches. Which is a good thing because the students, teachers and staff had MANY questions.

There is a lot of controversy about international schools, disputes over the nationality of students (they are often ethnic Koreans whose parents have lived or traveled abroad).

Korea needs such schools, so students have free air to breathe. Over the last seven years, I have spoken at a number of traditional as well as international schools.

The Korean education system sucks the life out of students, pushing them so hard to score well on the high school entrance exam that they lose themselves as individuals. These students at the international schools would be gobbled up and destroyed by the Korean education system requiring conformity before they ever had a chance to develop intellectual curiosity.

The students we encountered had many questions, they were interested in analyzing rather than asking the inane questions we usually get from Korean students at traditional Korean schools. I sensed the students at the international school had some context to their questions, so I would turn the questions around on them, and they often had answers.

When I have spoken to Korean students at traditional schools, it has seemed that either I was giving a speech at a morgue or the students had passed away while I was speaking.

Yet again, the students at international schools had many questions, from a variety of angles, ranging from North Korea, to Eunhee, to TNKR.

There was something different and special about each group.

  • The first group, all middle school boys, had questions flying all over the room.
  • The middle school girls were lovely, and were also shooting questions from all over the room.
  • The group mixed with students and teachers was great, it seemed that the top students in the school had been invited to this session.
  • Then the group with teachers and staff was the session that reminded us why educators asking questions could get us to think more deeply about things. One of the teachers started crying, more than once, as she listened to Eunhee talk.
  • The group of what seemed to be elementary school kids also came through with many questions, based on what they had heard, not just a list of questions that teachers had prepared for them in advance.

Of course, Eunhee was the main attraction. Four years ago, she joined TNKR at the A-B-C level, but she now become a polished speaker. She has reached that important threshold for a speaker, refugee or not, the ability to engage in Q&A. There are many speakers who can give a good speech, and many North Korean refugee speakers can get prepared to deliver remarks. The next level, however, is when a speaker can interact with the audience.

Eunhee has reached that level, mixing humor, analysis, thoughtful commentary, opinions and facts. She doesn’t try to extend her story beyond what it is and has embraced her story so even when it doesn’t satisfy people (reporters, researchers, intellectuals, authors, North Korea watchers) looking for a super story, she is fine with who she is and her own North Korea story.

After the Q&A sessions, it was time to take group photos.

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That was it! A wonderful day at an international school, introducing TNKR and North Korean refugees to many people at an international school.

They will soon be sending us the donation the students collected for TNKR.

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