There is learning, there is understanding, and there is action. This is exactly the process I followed while finding out about the 2012 MOU Overseas Correspondents’ Internship Program. After my visit back from North Korea in 2011, my experiences gained from what I saw and discovered about the unknown country made me realise how essential Korean reunification really is.
Korea is the only divided country in the world and I felt very much inclined to do something, anything to learn more about the issue and hopefully, find some solutions. This is when Google search came in handy and I spotted the Ministry of Unification’s website. I followed their blogs and kept in touch with them for over six months, and became keen on the internship they offered. My lesson is: if an opportunity arises, definitely seize it!
So who am I, you ask?
I am a Korean-born-Australian who believes that the reunification issue is a global responsibility. My MOU internship was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-Korea Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I recently graduated from the University of Melbourne with a double major in International Studies/Political Science and German. My knowledge in German history provides empirical evidence that reunification is possible and will happen sooner than later. The question should not be “when,” but whether or not we are “ready” for reunification. We’ve got to act now to prepare for what is inevitable.
In the next few paragraphs, I will briefly outline three of my most memorable moments from my MOU internship.
After the orientation and the presentation of our letters of appointment, I knew I made the right choice. With a packed schedule, we were kept very busy, that is, we were flying off to China the next day. At the camp, we were assigned into teams and I was with half of our Overseas Correspondents team, along with some of the Korean Correspondents. This was “Team 12”. My team leader made us feel very welcome and despite my unfamiliar sounding Aussie accent, we got along so well and I absolutely loved my team. The camp brought us even closer together and we had so much fun taking photos (not forgetting to do the “peace signs” of course), eating together and making the UCC video for our project.
The trip offered us the chance to visit some of the significant locations in China related to North Korea (Tumen, Mt. Baekdu, Dandong and Dalian, just to name a few). Here, the reality of the divided Koreas was evident and I felt grateful as a Korean-Australian to have had the opportunity to visit the North, whereas the South Koreans were not permitted, even if they wanted to. North Korea seems so close for them, and yet so far. This changed my understanding about how much the Korean youth of today really wanted reunification.
2. Unification Education
For a whole week, we attended lectures prepared by South Korean government officials and other professionals to learn about North Korea, issues surrounding reunification and the relations between the two Koreas. There were also musical performances showcasing North Korean singing and dancing, as well as field trips to the Unification Observatory and the 3rd Underground Tunnel.
On the last day of the Education Week, a “Talk Concert” was held. I mentioned previously that my Korean wasn’t all that perfect but to my surprise, I was nominated to take part in one of the segments of the event. I had no idea what I had got myself into but I committed to memorising paragraphs of Korean texts written about the “unijar” – unification jar within the short timeframe. Throwing in some impromptu English phrases and jokes assisted by the famous Gag Concert comedians, I was able to execute the task somewhat smoothly. Despite my nerves and limited preparation for the task, it was such a rewarding experience. Not only because I got to be up on stage with the famous actors, but also because I had an opportunity to take part in an event related to the reunification issue.
3. Teaching English at Hangyeorae
For two weeks, we were each assigned to a student for a mentoring program at a North Korean defector middle and high school. My mentee’s name was Mi-Hyang and she was very outgoing and confident. I could see that she was comfortable with having me around. In order to assimilate completely into the students’ daily routine we were woken up at six in the morning for a short aerobics lesson, joined in with our mentees in their cleaning duties, and prepared for our English classes by coming up with a plan on what techniques would best suit our students in learning English. Many of our activities involved playing games together as a group, which was a success, as the kids seem to learn from these exercises and enjoy them too.
For one on one diary-writing sessions, I realised my mentee knew only the basics of English. It took a lot of patience for me to individually spell out every letter for her to write one word or a sentence, but it was satisfying to see how quickly she picked up the language. I encouraged her to make mistakes because it’s a good way to learn and improve. As a result, she was never afraid to write a letter in advance, even before I called them out for her.
With the conclusion of the program, the fact that we could plant a little seed of hope for the students and bring a burst of joy and happiness to their lives was clearly something that we are proud of achieving (as evident from their big smiles when comparing the shots of their before and after photos). I want to wish the students at Hangyeorae the very best of luck for the future and believe that they will become important representatives of Korean reunification. I really miss each and every one of them and hope to see them again one day.
Writing this article made me realise how fast time has flown by, yet I still managed to accumulate countless number of precious memories. Looking back at my application for the internship, I can guarantee that my expectations have undeniably exceeded, and my goals have certainly been achieved. It truly was an honour to be a part of this rare internship experience and I have gained a great deal from this internship: I have made lasting friendships all over the world, I was able to work directly with North Koreans, my Korean skills have improved significantly, and finally, but definitely not the least, I learned more about the Korean culture and how “skinship” is something rather unfamiliar to the Koreans.
My passion for Korean reunification has grown even stronger now and I’m inspired to seek extensively for answers to this issue – our issue. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who was a part of this journey with me.
Now, I wait for the day when the answer “Korea” is sufficient enough (when asked about where I come from) instead of an instant questioning back of “South or North?”
All the photos are the property of the author’s.