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Career mentorship program for North Korean students
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2016-01-22 14:35:55
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Helping students prepare for college admission interviews



While running our Hangyoreh School for North Korean youth, it became clear that some form of mentoring was necessary to assist our students with the difficult task of pursuing their chosen careers and higher education. North Korean students’ understanding of the many career choices available to them is very limited, as they escaped from a country where most of the jobs that exist today in modern and technologically advanced societies simply do not exist. NKHR’s Vocational and Education Mentorship Program was born out of this need. This program helps students understand the free market and the various career options available to them so that they can pursue careers that align with their interests and academic aptitudes. We arrange visits with various types of professionals at their places of work for students to learn about a variety of professions. We also organize meetings at various universities and sessions where North Korean students who have already graduated and begun their careers share their experiences. NKHR’s program officers also meet with our students one-on-one for college and job counseling, helping the students select the right colleges and universities, prepare their college or job applications, and hold mock interviews.


Since February of last year, we individually mentored 7 students and helped them gain admission to their universities of choice in South Korea. They will officially begin their first semesters in February of 2016. Often, North Korean students choose majors in well-known departments not because those majors reflect their true interests, but because they are unaware of the many different departments offered by universities. They often do not realize that areas of study that more closely align with their interests even exist. For example, one of our mentees, Eunyoung, had planned to study hotel management and tourism, but she did not know what she wanted to do with that degree after graduation. NKHR’s staff knew that she liked reading books and was very active in a book club, even taking a leadership role within the book club and organizing several meetings. Our program officers suggested that she consider the Library and Information Science Department, but Eunyoung had never heard of it. Over the course of NKHR’s program, NKHR helped Eunyoung learn about the department and a possible future career in that field. Ultimately, Eunyoung decided to apply to both the hotel management and library and information science departments.


Hyangshim is another example. In North Korea, Hyangshim had been responsible for distributing the products that were offered in her company’s magazine. When she arrived in South Korea she was older than the other students and therefore did not attend high school. Instead, on her own initiative, she self-studied and went to private evening schools to bridge the gap in her education. She was considering selecting Chinese language as her major, one of the most popular majors among North Korean students in South Korean universities. But unlike her peers, Hyangshim did not previously speak or learn any Chinese. Without a foundation in Chinese language, NKHR staff worried she would be dissatisfied with this major. We informed her of other potential choices, among them, finance and accounting. In the end, Hyangshim decided to apply to 5 universities offering finance and accounting courses.  


When the college admissions came in, it turned out that all 7 of the students we mentored had been offered admission at multiple universities—their biggest worry was which school would be the best choice! Eunyoung was offered admission by three universities and Hyangshim passed the admissions exams for Ewha Womans University, one of South Korea’s top 10 universities.


NKHR will continue to offer this Vocational and Education Mentorship Program in 2016 to help our North Korean students realize their dreams and full potentials.

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