Beyond Politics: Connecting with the North Korean Community

April 17th, 2016

Photo caption: LiNK’s English Tutoring and Cultural Exchange Program

By: Matt Walters (Fulbright ETA 2015-16)

The subject of sensationalist buzz, alarming news reports, and controversial comedy films, North Korea receives a great deal of attention that often obscures the plights of ordinary North Koreans. Many within Fulbright Korea , however, have come to look beyond the face-value images they are inundated with in order to make a positive impact within this unique, often disadvantaged, community. From larger and older programs like Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) to newer ones, such as Running 4 Resettlement, plenty of opportunities for involvement exist. These are stories of how grantees have made North Korea an integral piece of their time in South Korea.

Current Fulbright Korea junior researcher Joyce Kim has been conducting her research on Liberty in North Korea. Founded in 2004, the nongovernmental organization has made great strides in rescuing and resettling North Korean refugees hiding in North Korea. As Kim explains, “LiNK’s vision is to work with the North Korean people to accelerate change to North Korea.” Kim further outlines four main initiatives of the program: rescue, resettlement, empowerment, and “changing the narrative.” LiNK has rescued and resettled over 400 refugees, but also provides education and career information to further assist the defectors. In addition, the program’s over 250 worldwide teams work to, as Kim describes it, “shift [media] focus from the high politics to North Korea’s changing society and the people’s potential as agents of change.”

In addition, several Fulbright Korea ETAs are involved in NKD, or the North Korean Defector program. As a part of this program, ETAs both mentor and teach English to North Korean students. Nikki Brueggeman, a current ETA in Jeonju, comments that even her short time participating in NKD has broadened her perspective.

“When we look at North Korea, I think we tend to…overlook the human aspects,” she says. “But working with [the students] has helped me see that they are children first. They love stickers, they love to color, and [love to] laugh. It has made me see North Koreans in a new light.”


Photo caption: At the starting line of the Kim Dae Jung Marathon

Three-year participant and regional coordinator Cait Cronin offers a similar viewpoint to Brueggeman. She notes the tremendous contrast between the attitudes of her high school students she regularly teaches—at one of Korea’s top four high schools—and the North Korean student she has mentored for the past three years.

“For [my high school students], understandably, class is often viewed as an obstacle [or] a memorizable soundbite; for my resettler student, however, class is only ever an opportunity,” she says.

She finds the growth and progress of her mentee particularly inspiring. Cronin adds, “When I visited Pyongyang in 2014, I saw students using computers as bookstands because there wasn’t enough power to access even the country’s domestic internet service—and that was the top 1% elite.” Such powerful images and anecdotes point to the continued importance of NKD as an essential program.

Cronin also leads another program called Running 4 Resettlement, or R4R. The program, while not officially affiliated with Fulbright, has seen great success since its conception two years ago by ETA Eric Horvath. The program draws inspiration from NKD, and aims to contribute donations to Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR). NKHR aims to allow North Korean refugees in China to exit the country safely. Those interested can sign up to run in the Kim Dae-Jung Peace Marathon on Sunday, June 12, all the while fundraising to support NKHR. Even those not interested in running may still donate to help the cause. Further details can be found at R4R’s website.

Getting to Know the Fulbright Office: A Conversation With This Year's Program Coordinator and Executive Assistant

October 14th, 2015

Each year, Fulbright Korea hires a Program Coordinator and Executive Assistant to manage the affairs, events, and wellbeing of ETAs and Researchers. Recently, we were able to sit down with Program Coordinator (PC) Amelea Kim and Executive Assistant (EA) Ben Harris to get to know them better.

FKAR: Tell us about yourself.

Amelea: My name is Amelea Kim, and I’m from Saint Louis, MO. I have a pretty big family (one of five kids), and I went to a small liberal arts college in Ohio and majored in East Asian Studies. While I was there, I got super into libraries, and I want to go to grad school for Library and Information Science. After I graduated, I went to China for two years and taught English at an agricultural university, which was really fun. Then I came to Korea with Fulbright and taught at an elementary school in Hwacheon before becoming the Program Coordinator for this year.

Ben: My name is Ben Harris from Detroit, Michigan, and I’ve lived in Michigan almost my whole life until graduation. I taught at a high school in Korea for a year as a Fulbright ETA before moving to the Seoul Office to be the Executive Assistant. I have two younger brothers. I don’t like cats or fish. I like to run, eat, and play piano.

FKAR: What aspects of this grant year will be different than in previous years?

Amelea: Individually, this year will be quite a change from last year in that it will involve a lot more self-directed work. Compared to last year where I came in and everyone was already in a groove, and I had to adjust to my coworkers’ pace, this year I can go in and set my own pace and goals.

As a program, we are bigger this year (121 ETAs) with a lot of new placement schools. We also have a lot really cool ideas that are developing this year, and organizations that have already been established are expanding out into many placement cities.

FKAR: Can you give us some insight on the Junior Researcher class this year? What are they like (topics, interests, etc.)?

Ben: There are a lot of topics being researched that are really important. Some of the projects this year are based on North Korean issues, disability rights, and the elderly. Overall, the research this year strikes me as incredibly timely and important.

FKAR: How is your role as PC/EA connected with Fulbright Korea alumni (if at all)?

Amelea: Perhaps not so much with alumni, but definitely with the current class. In terms of how I’m connected to FKAR, I definitely see FKAR being a valuable resource throughout the grant year and beyond. I want to aid and encourage in any way that I can, although I don’t know how (laughter). I am here to connect people when I can and help people out with information, and anything else that might be useful.

Ben: Connecting people is very important and useful. In terms of FKAR (what Amelea said), I think this is really important for the community.

FKAR: Is there anything in particular that you would like to see the FKAR Committee expand upon this year?

Amelea: It would be cool if internships or shadowing opportunities were highlighted, such as with people in similar fields or similar interests. Making those connections happen more would be very useful for ETAs, and I think it’s a great opportunity for alumni and current grantees to connect. It’s also great to see people giving back to Fulbright and creating a strong community that others can use to get inspired, get feedback, and get ideas.

Ben: In general, I like to see two main things. First, I like to hear about what alumni are doing, and two, I like to hear about available opportunities. I love it when people post internships or jobs on the alumni Facebook page – even things that I’d never consider applying for. It gives me confidence and makes me feel good to know that there are people in the network who are thinking about and looking out for other people.

FKAR: What do you hope to achieve in terms of progress this grant year?

Amelea: We’re trying to revamp our lesson database and make it better than what it is right now (laughter). That’s something we’re thinking about but is not yet complete. It’s a work in progress!

Ben: A major goal of ours this year is to improve the resources available to grantees to make them more accessible and efficient.

FKAR: How can we better incorporate the researchers into ETA events?

Amelea: Organizing more meet-ups for researchers to go to. Since most of the researchers this year are based in Seoul, it would be cool to do a monthly meet-up where FKAR organizes some sort of event (like laser tag because laser tag is FUN!) and invites a bunch of people to attend. This might be great for forum weekends – people come to the forum, and then do something that night or the next day to all hang out together!

A Letter from the Executive Director, Jai Ok Shim

January 8th, 2015

Dear Readers,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations website. The Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations Committee was founded by second year ETAs Patrick Cho, Brett Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Philipp with guidance from Program Coordinator Marissa Lynn and Executive Assistant Randy Tarnowski. They are now accompanied by 10 enthusiastic first year ETAs who continue the tradition of ingenuity and initiative among our Fulbright Korea grantees. I congratulate the committee for their hard work and wish them well in their efforts to link Fulbrighters past and present.

In the past year, Fulbright programs in Korea have continued to grow and change. Last summer, we welcomed 76 ETAs as well as 20 junior researchers and nine senior scholars to Korea. American researchers continue to pursue diverse topics in a variety of fields; this year, projects range from tracking the memorializations of the Korean War in museums and films to assisting Korean engineers with the construction and launch of a small satellite. Furthermore, the 2014 Program Year marked the beginning of the Graduate Student Program, which has brought two Master’s students to Korea to pursue Korean Studies degrees at Yonsei University in the Graduate School of International Studies. We look forward to growing this program over the next few years to match the increasing interest in Korean studies in American universities and research institutions.

ETAs have continued to engage with their placements both in and out of the classroom. ETA-led programs, such as the Korean Adolescent Mentoring Program (KAMP) and Korea Bridge Initiative (KBI) have expanded to two and three placements cities, respectively, just a few years after their formation. Our North Korean defector tutoring program is also thriving. A new center in Jinju opened this past fall, bringing our total to twelve throughout Korea. These homegrown organizations speak volumes to our ETAs’ commitment and community-mindedness.

I encourage you all to use the Alumni Relations Committee’s efforts as a conduit through which to stay involved with the Fulbright community. Whether well-established in a career or just transitioning into graduate school, each of you has a wealth of knowledge to offer to current grantees and to each other. Established alumni should consider using this website to reach out to those who have just completed their grant, offering advice on how best to apply the grant year experience to post-Fulbright endeavors. Recent alumni can recount stories from their grant year, keeping the experience fresh in the minds of those who may have left Korea more than two decades ago.

As you explore this website, please remember that the connections made during your Fulbright year do not dissolve once you complete your grant. One of the most powerful parts of the Fulbright Korea experience is the strong bond that forms within and across each cohort. In the past, this has been maintained informally through e-mails or Facebook groups – disparate but energized by the shared experience of having been a Fulbright grantee. It is my hope that through the Alumni Relations Committee, we will institute an active forum for the Fulbright Korea alumni community, revealing it to be what it has always been: a vibrant and engaged family with a continued commitment to cultural ambassadorship. I look forward to reading about your accomplishments.


Jai Ok Shim
Executive Director
Korean-American Educational Commission