I am so excited to be moderating an all-star panel of women who have been crafting their careers that have been driven by their mission to promote change in our world with a focus on North Korea. Be sure to join us for what will be an inspiring event with practical tips from these leaders on how you can incorporate your passions into your career too.
On International Women’ Day, the Council of Korean Americans will be hosting an exclusive speaker panel of Korean women leaders on the topic of pursuing mission-driven careers, featuring human rights activists and innovation thought leaders:
Hannah Song, President & CEO of Liberty in North Korea
Jihyun Park, North Korean Defector & Human Rights Activist
Sylvia Kim, General Partner of CerraCap Cares
Event title: Creating Your Career: Lessons from Women Leaders in Mission-Driven Careers
Just saw this online and hope students will apply for this awesome scholarship.
“Columbia University has launched a scholarship program to support individuals who have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. These students will receive full tuition, housing, travel, and living assistance while pursuing select undergraduate degrees at Columbia University. Applicants must have been displaced by the conflict in Syria, and currently residing in Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey, or residing under Temporary Protected Status in the US. Students will begin their studies in fall 2018. ”
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict is putting on a free seven-week online course titled ” “Civil Resistance Struggles: How Ordinary People Win Rights, Freedom, and Justice.” There are 50 spots for people all over the world, and applications are due on February 8, 2018. The course’s content is particularly relevant these days, when the power of ordinary citizens and people need to be exercised more than ever.
Hi all! For my Oxford half marathon that I’m running on October 8, I’m raising money for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Their mission is to end the transmission of HIV in the UK, and to enable people with HIV to live full lives (for more, click on this link) I’m aiming to raise a minimum of 375 pounds. Please consider donating! http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JiBaek
*Update as of October 5 — I sprained my ankle while running this past weekend. I will certainly still participate in the race on Sunday, but I’ll be quite slow!
During my trip to Seoul this summer, I met extraordinary people who escaped North Korea and are involved in service projects throughout South Korea. I was particularly inspired by North Korean defectors who are now college students in Seoul who want to “achieve unification of the two Koreas on a small scale by working with South Korean native peers through service projects.”
Esther Eom left North Korea several years ago and has been engaged in service projects over the past several years in Seoul. She is currently directing an NGO called “UNI SEED,” which engages university students who are South Korean natives and North Korean defectors to serve homeless people in Seoul. She believes that individual students can achieve what politicians currently cannot: unification (on a small scale) between North and South Koreans.
Additionally, she and her fellow NGO members want to signal to South Koreans and others that people who escaped North Korea are not solely dependent on South Korean NGO and government handouts. This young generation of North Korean defectors want to prove to themselves and others that not only can they survive, but also serve those in their new country.
Every third Saturday, UNI SEED cooks North Korean food, packages them into individual meals (rice, North Korean side dishes, and North Korean soup), and hands them out to homeless men and women in Seoul Station, a high-traffic area. They hand out the meals, and then go around the station to collect any and all trash that resulted from these meals. I was invited to their recent meal event and was inspired by how passionate, determined, and creative this group is.
There are other similar groups at churches and university campus across South Korea who want to achieve unification on a small scale by inviting South Korean native and North Korean defector students to work together on service projects and build trusting friendships through social events.
Keep an eye out for UNI SEED, Esther Eom, her colleagues, and for similar organizations. The power of a single individual truly cannot be underestimated!
After I interviewed a few folks at the Unification Media Group for a book that I’m working on, they asked me to do an interview about my background as part of a weekly program they broadcast into North Korea, targeting young North Koreans who secretly listen to their radio program. The specific program hosts young guests from all over — United States, South Korean, North Korean defectors — to talk about their personal goals and dreams. The goal of this program is to inspire hope, dreams, and strength among North Korean youth. My interview ran long (because I’m long-winded), so it was split into two parts. The radio programs have already been broadcast into North Korea.
At the beginning of every program, the radio program host reads the opening lines in Korean (excuse my rough English translation):
“If you raise a chicken egg, a chick will hatch. If you raise a duck egg, a duckling will hatch. American President Lincoln had a dream to free slaves, and eventually emancipated slaves in his country. Similarly, the dreams that human beings raise will become reality. For the North Korean young people who are listening to this program, what kind of dreams do you hold dear in your heart? Now is the time for us to deliver the stories of young people who have passionately followed their dreams and made them into reality.”
If you have ideas of programs or content that you’d like to have broadcast into North Korea, or if you want to write a letter or speak to North Koreans through these radio programs that secretly broadcast into North Korea, contact me any time!
The Seoul-based “Unification Media Group” is the umbrella group for Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea, Daily NK, and OTV.
Ji Seong-Ho walked 6,000 miles with just one leg and one arm on the crutches that his father made for him to defect North Korea for the second time to reach freedom in South Korea.
He was caught during his first attempt to escape North Korea, and was beaten severely by North Korean soldiers. When I met with him a few weeks ago in Seoul, he told me that the worst part of being punished by the soldiers was their fury they expressed at a “disabled freak” for bringing dishonor to their country. People like him were supposed to die in silence, not make a mockery of North Korea, they said.
He now runs an incredible organization titled “Now, Action, & Unity for Human Rights.” His organization is raising funds for him to move into a new office to continue the work his organization does: rescue North Korean children, raise global awareness about human rights violations in North Korea, and broadcast radio programs into North Korea for North Korean people to illicitly listen to. I watched him walk up the stairs to his tiny office on the fifth floor (no elevators) and thought, “my goodness. Humans are truly capable to overcoming any obstacle.”
I just made my contribution to his campaign on this site. Please check out the site and make your contribution today!
This project will send two North Korean defector journalists to the Chinese-North Korean border to source news and share their findings with us all. Check out the video and support the good work that Chad O’Carroll and team are doing at NK News. (And sign up for their daily newsletter!)
What’s a better way to get news from this regime than from North Koreans themselves who have the skills to source primary materials and write stories to share with the world?
Song Byeok went from being a North Korean propaganda artist to political prisoner to now a dissident artist. His work will be exhibited in New York City for the next few weeks (May 7 – June 13) and I’d love for anyone in NYC to check his work out. This is an extremely unique show.
The exhibition, titled “Looking at the World’ is “dedicated to all those who have suffered from the physical and psychological abuses of a flawed government pivoted on the lack of human rights and freedom.”
We just launched North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) US website, which makes it easier for everyone to donate to NKIS. Please check out the site and consider making your donation today. You will be helping to make history. Spread the word!
In March 2013, I went on a spring break trek to Palestine with a a bunch of HKS students, led by Asma Jaber. I was thinking about going to Morocco, China, or some other trek, but after learning a bit about Palestinian history, culture, and political tensions, I knew that I had to go on this trek. It would be my first trip to the Middle East, and the trek would come to open my eyes, ears, and heart to the region. (You can read one of Asma’s powerful articles here.)
George was our local tour guide, a Christian Palestinian, and introduced us to this beautiful land with a culture and history unparalleled in its richness, vibrance, and tensions. For seven days, we trekked through the West Bank –Nablus, Ramallah, Jerico, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. We couldn’t get into Gaza Strip (no surprise there), but video-conferenced with some Gaza residents. My one week in Palestine pulled me to return to the Middle East many times since then, and I certainly plan to visit many times throughout my life. It’s one of the most actively misunderstood regions, and by studying and traveling throughout different countries since Palestine, I fell in love with the region.
Fast forward to last year, 2014. With her passion for studying and sharing the history of Palestine, Asma founded PIVOT, “an app that lets you see what a place looked like in the past and digitally streamlines the preservation of culture & history” and is starting with Palestine. Her co-founder and finance Sami Jitan and team won the Harvard Dean’s Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Harvard Innovation Lab and a variety of other awards and recognition.
They’re currently raising money for this project on kickstarter (check it out) and are looking forward to making this a widely useful, relevant, and fun tool for everyone.
Asma’s ability to convert her passion for her ancestry, culture, and her history into an innovative and relevant app is so inspiring. I hope you check it out!
North Korea has one of the worst — if not the worst — health care systems in the world. I’ve known this for a very a long time, but this point was driven home for me when one of the North Koreans I spent my day with today, a North Korean doctor, told me the following:
“I was trained as a doctor in North Korea, but feel immense guilt because I was unable to save lives in the very profession that is defined by saving lives.”
He, his colleagues, nor his hospital simply did not have the resources necessary to serve patients. Surgeries like appendectomies without anesthetics; sending patients armed with prescriptions and the hope to find medicines on the black market; “sterilizing” syringes with salt to reuse on the next patient; washing blood-soaked cotton balls for future re-use; storing hospital-made saline solution in beer bottles for patients’ IV are some of the memories that this doctor has of his working days in North Korea.
The sheer multidimensional inhumanity of this country is so unquestionably blunt. I hope that the sweeping quantitative descriptions of this regime — numbers of deaths, percentage figure of the population that’s starving, the pennies that the average North Korean citizen makes per month, the number of people in prison camps, the number failed defections — do not make consumers of this information jaded to the individual haunting experiences that painfully comprise these numbers.
If you’re interested in learning more about this doctor’s story, and those of other North Koreans who are currently doing a tour of events on the East Coast, check out my previous post for their event details!
The North Korea Strategy Center and Woorihana are on a East Coast tour to share their insights and perspectives on how to drive change inside North Korea. Their public events are listed below. If you have any specific questions about any of the events below, please send me a note!
I’m also attaching their press releases in English and Korean.
Next week, Alex Gladstein from Human Rights Foundation and I will give a short talk at MIT about hacking North Korea with information. (The movie is mainly to draw people to the event!) Please come if you can! Email me or drop me a note if you have any questions. Hope to see you there!
In light of North Korea’s hacking of Sony (and previous cyber attacks), the Human Rights Foundation is hosting a fundraising campaign called “HACK THEM BACK” to support organizations run by North Korean defectors who work to send information into North Korea. One of the organizations that the HACK THEM BACK campaign will support is North Korea Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS), run by Mr. Kim Heung Kwang. This is an organization I closely work for, and hope that you will support them through the HACK THEM BACK campaign!
For those of you in New York City who are interested in learning about North Korean youth's identity in South Korea, please register for this event. The Korean American Community Foundation is sponsoring "North Korean Millenials: Exploring Identity and Place" on Thursday, July 17, 2014 in the Engelman Recital Hall at Baruch Performing Arts Center.
Registration is at 6:30pm; Program is 7:00-9:00pm.
With any visit to a new place, fully knowing a country is impossible, much less with a brief visit to one city, especially if that city one of the wealthiest cities in a poor country. But from my few days in Yangon that were jam-packed meetings, interrupted by torrential rain, and where I was bothered by very determined mosquitoes, I learned that this is an extremely complicated nation striving towards healing, reconciliation, and unity, a nation that I would love to visit again and again in the near future. The society is marred by well-known cancers: the absolutely reprehensible treatment of the Rohingyas, the exclusion of other ethnic groups for the sake of a cohesive national identity, and extreme poverty that is stunting a generation of children. But who said transitioning from a military dictatorship to a democratic society was easy?
I sat in the window seat of our bus throughout our time in Myanmar, and quietly watched people living their lives. I tried to control my attitude and told myself that this was not a voyeuristic exercise, but one of learning and absorbing another’s culture and way of life. Like in any other country — rich or poor, democratic or not –, I watched men and women hustling, trying to make a living by selling coffee under dirt-covered umbrellas, young kids selling gum and tissue packs, and young school girls wearing green longyis with Barbie backpacks walking, hand-in-hand, to wherever they needed to go. I watched young boys, maybe 12 or 13 years old, teasing their girl classmates on the streets, trying to get a rise out of them. Prepubescent flirting, I call it. There were older girls, maybe late teens or early twenties, wearing heavy eye make up (much like myself) complete with Tha Nat Khar, strolling around in their skinny jeans with swag in their step.
I must admit that the familiarity of what I witnessed from my window seat was relieving. Yes, there is much, much more to people and their realities than what meets the eye, but the familiarity of life on the streets in a country that has been notorious for being closed off just until a few years ago, revealed that humans truly are experts at surviving. The brutal Burmese dictatorship failed to strip the dignity and self-determination of its people, and they eventually failed at sustaining its regime. I suspect that this country will take decades to reverse damages done by the previous government, and to work toward a peaceful domestic existence. But as an outsider, I am thrilled that the country has made the first critical step of transitioning out of authoritarian rule, and is making strides to achieve what its people have been fighting for for so long. I have no doubt that this recent history can, and will, be repeated in the last few remaining dictatorships in our near future.
Days after my graduation, I took off with a bunch of my classmates and friends for the HKS Asia Leadership Trek, which is a “unique, overseas learning experience that exposes young professionals to the Asia region through active engagement and knowledge sharing of best practices in public leadership, education, and social entrepreneurship. The Trek provides an experiential journey of Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Yangon.” In a nutshell, we had an extraordinary line-up of meetings (sometimes waay too many) with politicians (e.g. President of Indonesia and his cabinet), American ambassadors, billionaires and budding entrepreneurs (e.g. Proximity Designs in Yangon), beauty queens (many Miss Indonesias!), NGOs (e.g. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights), Corporations (e.g. Mitsubishi, Toyota, Samsung), etc etc etc. I’ll write more about my experiences in each place, but I thought I’d provide a quick overview of my whirlwind of a trip to Asia. [For the fun stuff, check out our photos on our facebook page here]
With the exception of China, I was fascinated by the countries’ own arduous journeys to democratize their societies and governments. Speaking with politicians, editors of major media outlets, NGOs, students and friends we made in the countries cemented by belief that all people truly are hungry to be free. Freedom can materialize in various forms of expression and outlets, but people everywhere — in Myanmar’s Rakine State or poor parts of Seoul — want to be heard, want to be free. Something else I observed was a fiery urgency in all six countries to create, innovate, and push the frontiers of entrepreneurship while balancing the tension with more Confucianism and Buddhist values of hierarchy, respect, and keeping the status quo. As Asia quickly becomes an increasingly powerful region for international politics, business, and culture, these countries, along with their neighboring countries, must be able to figure out how they will be able to sustainably balance their desire for social and political change while staying true to traditional values. On the contrary, I strongly believe that Western nations, especially my country the United States, could tremendously benefit from incorporating the more traditionally “Asian” values into our commercial, political, and social worlds.
There are many differences, tensions, and historical difficulties among these countries and between the US and Asian nations, but as we move forward in a globalizing era, understanding other nations (or at least minimizing misunderstandings and false perceptions) is essential to minimize military conflict and maximize the possibility for regional peace. So while our politicians, presidents, and diplomats have at it, we can all do our part by traveling, reading up on people and places that we just don’t understand or even harbor hatred towards. It’s trite, and almost elementary, but trying to understand parties that we just don’t understand or can’t connect with is our duty! Although this trip allowed me to only scrape the surface of each country, I tried my best to catch glimpses of life in each place that went unspoken of. I will, of course, plan return to each of these extraordinary countries. I hope you do too.
Happy New Year everyone! I returned from Lebanon a week ago to conduct interviews with my classmate Laila Matar to work on our Policy Analysis Exercise together. I will write more about my trip to Lebanon in a separate post, but for now, for those interested in applying to Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and its capstone project, I’ll direct you do a post Laila and I wrote for the HKS admissions blog.
For a little over two weeks, Laila and I ran around Beirut, Bekka Valley, Saida, and elsewhere trying to meet and interview as many people as possible, ranging from Ministers, politicians, activists, journalists, UNHCR staff, Syrian refugees, Palestinian refugees, Palestinian refugees from Syria, a Catholic priest, Iraqi security forces, and more. The more we learned, the less we knew. Syrian refugees were pouring into Lebanon’s porous borders with no coordinated national policy to properly serve and absorb the refugees while securing existing Lebanese communities. The Syrian refugee crisis — not only in Lebanon, but Turkey, Iraq, and other neighboring countries — is one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time, and unfortunately, the end is nowhere near.
at exhibition in Beirut of drawings by Syrian refugee children