Reflection on My MOU Internship Experience

Through my internship with the Ministry of Unification Overseas Student Correspondent Program, I have broadened and deepened my knowledge in two areas and developed skills that will help me in my future career.

The first is Korean unification. Although I took a course in the modern history of Korea while studying abroad at Waseda University, I did not have detailed knowledge of issues in North-South relations, especially in the last two decades, which have been very eventful for both Koreas. Through interactions with South Korean government officials, experts on peninsular relations, and North Korean defectors, I have acquired an in-depth understanding of the obstacles to unification.

The second is refugee issues. I had taken a course on the international human rights regime and a colloquium on human rights issues in the contemporary world, but I had no practical experience of working with refugees. By participating in a variety of activities with North Korean defectors (such as volunteering at a defector assimilation centre and tutoring young refugees at Hangyore School), I gained first-hand knowledge of the problems faced by refugees as they struggle to adapt to life in a different society. In the future, I hope to practice human rights law, probably in Korea, so knowledge in both these areas will be very important.

In addition, I was able to improve my skills in several areas. The first is diplomacy. Among Koreans, North-South relations are an extremely contentious issue. South Korea is ideologically polarized between those who want to reach out to the North through engagement and those who simply want to effect regime change by intensifying the political, economic, and military pressure on Pyongyang. In addition, North Korean defectors have often found it difficult to adapt to the competitive, high-pressure nature of life in the South, where they are often viewed as country bumpkins. Navigating these divides has forced me to improve my skills in demonstrating respect, listening to opposing points of view, and seeking common ground.

The second skill area is teaching and mentoring. I had never taught or tutored in a formal setting. By tutoring North Korean defectors enrolled in a special high-school program, I began to learn how to assess the needs of students and devise strategies to help them. It was great hearing inside stories about their lives back home in North Korea and how they have escaped home from the students at the Hangyore School and a lot of us were able to create strong bonds with our mentees that we still keep in touch today.

The third is journalism. As I contribute to the OneKorea blog throughout the year, I will continue to incorporate skills I have acquired from this summer and through my studies to provide valuable insight as well as my own personal take on unification. I already have some journalistic experience thanks to an internship I did at Waseda, writing articles on life in Japan from a foreigner’s perspective. However, I expect that contributing to OneKorea will require a higher level of research and analytical skill.

My internship with the MOU Overseas Student Correspondent Program allowed me to reconnect with Korea. I had been studying abroad (in Canada, the United States, and Japan) since the 7th grade. Despite regular trips home during holidays, I felt estranged from my native country. My MOU internship helped me reintegrate into Korean society and build a personal network of socially and politically conscious Korean students and professionals. By the end of the summer, I had acquired many new Facebook friends and great memories. More importantly, the internship awakened in me the hope  that I can make a small contribution toward the unification of my country, a cause which is dear to my heart, while I advance toward my career goal of working as a lawyer for the promotion of human rights, international understanding, and economic development.   It was a rare and precious experience, and I look forward to contributing to the MOU blog for the current academic year.

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