Authoritarian mentality lives on (Korea Times, 12/31/14) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

The next time Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon speaks about innovation and new ways of doing business being "deeply rooted" in city administration, I hope he will surround himself on stage with police officers and prosecutors.

The authoritarian mentality is still alive in Korea, as 
Mark Clifford wrote in his 1994 book "Troubled Tiger." Korea remains a "country of elite control" in which "the state oversees everything from wedding ceremonies to corporate investment."

Korea then had 500,000 local government officials, reaching into every sector of Korean society. Two decades later, there is still no issue too trivial for Korea's numerous politicians to get involved in, with even former President Lee Myung-bak discussing in a 2011 cabinet meeting ― yes, a presidential cabinet meeting ― whether men working in host bars should be considered as hostesses. In March 2013, at her first cabinet meeting, President Park Geun-hye's new government endorsed a regulation imposing fines on those caught wearing revealing clothing.

Seeking scapegoats leading up to the 2012 National Assembly and presidential elections, large discount stores were mandated to be shut down at least twice a month, in the name of protecting small business. When Costco didn't comply during litigation, the Seoul city government retaliated by sending in regulators with white gloves to find dirt on Costco. As Steve Austin noted in a Korea Times letter: "Carrefour, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Wal-Mart, Lone Star, Standard and Chartered, and Apple have had to fend off these attacks." Korea's authoritarian mentality lives on.

It has become a cliché to say that Korea is a mix of the old and the new, but often there is a reason for clichés. Korea is at the forefront of high-tech, the Seoul city government has dubbed itself a "Sharing City" and established a "Sharing Hub." That openness is partnered with crackdowns, fines and arrests. As Korea Times columnist Jason Lim recently wrote, "Korean culture of governance is still characterized by command and control tendencies tinged with dismissive condescension toward those whom they have been elected to serve."

Seoul is now targeting Uber, a drive-sharing app that remotely connects drivers with customers. Instead of finding space for "disruptive innovation," the Seoul city government has summoned law enforcement to the stage.

The Seoul prosecutor has indicted the CEO of Uber, threatening him with up to two years in jail or a fine of 20 million won. Seoul has shown one sliver of "creativity" ― offering rewards (1 million won) to tipsters who report Uber drivers.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bret Stephens explains why many innovations originate in America (indirectly explaining why few come from Korea): "Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn't have this problem. Flexibility, not hardness, is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design."

Where are Korea's broad spaces "to place millions of small bets" on innovators and new approaches? In explaining his vision of "social innovation," Seoul Mayor Park quoted Peter Drucker: "Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance. Change cannot be controlled. The only thing we can do is be in the front, and the only way to stand in front is through organic cooperation and collaboration between sectors."

Cooperation? Collaboration? Can't control change? Nice quote, Mr. Mayor, but threatening to arrest the CEO of Uber doesn't match. In cracking down on innovators, Mayor Park may want to take note of a different Drucker quote: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

In his 2011 book "Capturing New Markets: How Smart Companies Create Opportunities Others Don't," Stephen Wunker asks: "How can companies spot markets that do not exist?" He stresses focusing on "underlying customer need," citing the (perhaps apocryphal) story of Henry Ford saying, "If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

Consumers need freedom to choose among options available in the market and innovators need space, without the threat of arrest. Those "persons unknown" seeing "things unseen" can yield cars rather than faster horses and apps remotely connecting drivers with riders.

The attack on Uber may just be politics as usual ― there are more than 70,000 taxis in Seoul (280,000 across the nation) with drivers voting as a bloc. The unions mainly object to UberX so compromise may still be possible (although "compromise" will mean allowing businesses to choose their competitors).

The Seoul government should drop its ridiculous indictment against Uber. Whatever happens, the outcome can help determine if the prosecutor and police should start appearing on stage with Korean politicians when they say Korea is open to innovation and creative ways of doing business.


Mulmangcho Christmas Party (2014-12-21)

In late 2012, shortly after I became the volunteer International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees), I talked with school founder Prof. Park Sun-young about us holding a Christmas Party for the kids. I quickly concluded there was no way I could do it on my own so I dropped the idea and ignored her when she tried to remind me about it.^^

But last year? Edward M. Robinson, a party planner in America, among many other things, took the lead! Helping Others Prosper Through English (HOPE) hosted spectacular Halloween and Christmas parties for the kids last year (I'm also the International Adviser to HOPE).

This year, Eddie took the lead again, but the crew organizing the party has increased. (I hope I don't miss anyone). Eddie is the energy behind the organizing, but we do have plenty of help. In-Jee Lee led the toy drive with her colleagues at the Chungdahm Learning Institute. Mike Ashley reached into his own pocket and bought many gifts for the kids. Rachel Stine helped with organizing the party. Kelly Pratt helped with organizing, also bought many items to donate to the kids. And then there are volunteers like Nina Hong and Kristen Lefebvre who seem to be at Mulmangcho every weekend now.

Jungah Ji was one of the main organizers of our Christmas parties at the Yonsei Severance Hospital and she joined us at Mulmangcho for the first time, bringing her friend Yoonjee Kim along with her. Aaron Grommesh is back in Korea, that means that he is back at Mulmangcho. Laura Nell, who knew me back in the day before I got involved in NK issues. Serena Ha is yet another friend who joined Mulmangcho, and keeps coming back. Whereas the rest of us volunteer on Sundays, she was going on Thursdays once a week to tutor one of the young adults. Hannah Acuña Nedrow, Kasia Middleton, Niina Cartier, thank you so much, too. There were a few other volunteers Eddie brought, and I didn't catch their names...

Nevada Rhodes brought the same rambunctious energy he brought to the parties at the hospital a few days ago. If you are looking for an MC for parties, he is definitely someone to look up.

Oh! And of course the high school girls from Wonju who are regular volunteers at the school.

Several of the volunteers are also regulars in the Teach North Korean Refugees project, so it is delightful to be able to collaborate with them on more than just one thing...

Here's video from the Chosun Ilbo.

When the party was over, we said goodbye to Eddie, who boarded the bus with two crates and a suitcase, then had three taxi drivers refuse to take him home later on. If only they had known what a great thing he had done, they might have given him a free ride. So next year, someone please remind me to arrange Uber for Eddie.^^


Teach North Korean Refugees launches new project (2014-12-20)

In March 2013, Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue co-founded Teach North Korean Refugees. The main goal was to give North Korean refugees opportunities to study English with volunteer English tutors. We weren't the first to do it, but we added a few twists to it by allowing the refugees to choose the tutors themselves, and to choose as many as they wanted. We didn't benchmark the program by studying others, we just did what we thought made sense based on the situation. So far, we have matched 147 refugees and 11 South Koreans helping NK refugees with 205 tutors. We recently expanded beyond English to add Spanish and Latin, and later may add more languages.

But we have now launched a project that promises to be really special. We are splitting TNKR into two main parts;

Track 1: Finding My Own Way
Track 2: Telling My Story

Track 1 will be the original project connecting refugees with volunteer tutors to study for standardized tests, employment, school, personal enrichment, travel, curiosity.

Track 2 will allow those refugees who would like to become public speakers to work with Coaches. Some of them should be ready soon, some will need some time, and some are long-term projects. I want everyone to be realistic and I think everyone got that point.

We launched Track 2 yesterday, with 8 NK refugees, 1 South Korean, and 14 Coaches. What a talented and interesting group of Ambassadors and Coaches.

Seven of the eight refugees were or are current students in Track 1. It was the first time I had seen a few of them in a while, and wow, what an improvement in their English. They thanked us so many times for setting up this project, I can see they are so determined to improve themselves. One said that her "responsibility' will be to study hard. Another thanked us all for being interested in helping NK refugees, and also doing something about it.

Special thanks to our first group of Coaches:
Hannah Acuña Nedrow, Josh Cole, Fiona Fong, Sean Varley, Danielle Solof, @Mairi Law, Marisha Saifulina, Craig Urquhart, Fatima Nicholson, Charlotte Hammond, Jean Chung, @Colleen Dougherty, Suzanne Atwill Stewart, @kelly Sue Jin

It seems that our Coaches got swept away in the moment. Some of them stated at the beginning that they wanted only 1 or 2 Ambassadors to work with--but by the end, had three or four each.^^ I guess after they heard the refugees trying to express themselves in English, and saw their eagerness to learn that they kept finding time in their schedules.

This is a pilot project. We won't be benchmarking other projects, we will, like we did with Track 1, do what makes sense based on the situation. So we will be relying on our Coaches to give us feedback.

Thanks so much to the TNKR team:
Co-directors Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue;
Special Assistant Suzanne Atwill Stewart.
Academic Adviser Sodam Jeong

If you'd like to support TNKR, please consider making a donation. Thanks to the Atlas Network in Washington, DC, our donations will be DOUBLED if you donate through them. They will send 100% of the money to us, doubled, minus wire fees. All of the money wil go into the project, not into salaries or commissions.

I think this project will be really special. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Some of the idiots who are sympathetic or protective of the North Korean regime started complaining about this project even before we launched it. So I guess they realize how incredible (terrible, in their eyes) it will be if we can have a team of refugees able, in English, to tell their stories and discuss issues related to North Korea.


Christmas Party--Yonsei Severance Hospital (2014-12-17)

Two words that don't go together--"kids" and "cancer." Yesterday HOPE (Helping Others Prosper through English) hosted a Christmas party at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital in the Childrens' Cancer war. It was the second year in a row, first inspired October 2013 when my buddy Nick Adams visited South Korea. Jungah Ji joined us last year, as she did for the Christmas Party last year and then again this year! Some of you may recall that I decided to hold a Christmas Party at the hospital in late 2013. I wrote about it here (with photos).

The man of the day: Edward M. Robinson. He is the one who really pulled it together. He is really busy, doesn't have much free time, but he found the way to get it done. I will add the names of the volunteers when I get the complete list.

Rushing to judgment on a defector (The Korea Times, 12/17/14) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Have you ever read an article that you knew was wrong or incomplete based on your inside knowledge? That was the case as I read a 3,000-word commentary by reporter Mary Ann Jolley challenging statements by North Korean refugee Park Yeon-mi.

Jolley questioned if Park had really witnessed the execution of a friend's mother for watching a Hollywood movie, in Hyesan, North Korea. Jolley quoted North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov who questioned the likelihood of the account, as well as an unnamed 59-year-old refugee from Hyesan who "laughed" that such a thing had happened there.

The problem? Park didn't say the execution occurred in Hyesan. I know this because since last April I have recorded hours of detailed interviews with Park to help document her story. Park was born in Hyesan and later lived in Pyongyang, but moved to the countryside after her father was imprisoned. Because of a sensitive family security issue, Park has avoided mentioning the exact location of the execution publicly (she told me the location months ago in a recorded interview).

An investigative reporter writing a balanced article without a tight deadline might have recognized that missing details before questioning Lankov and others, but there are deeper issues than simple errors in a hit piece. How many sensitive details that could put others at risk must refugees reveal? How much should critics reasonably be allowed to challenge refugees, knowing a watchful psychotic regime up north is eager to punish "traitors" like Park?

How many embarrassing personal details must North Korean refugees reveal in snippets of interviews and speeches? Jolley even questions details about the burial of Park's father, but I know the story better than she does. Out of money, options and hope, with her father dying of cancer in China, Park and her mother agreed to be sold to a Chinese farmer. Park has mentioned such stories in speeches and interviews and sought to raise awareness without "sensationalizing" being sold in China.

Park hasn't discussed it publicly, so I will only briefly mention the "aunt" who brokered the deal and the Chinese man who purchased Park as his daughter and her mom as his wife; he also agreed to dispose of the body of Park's father upon his death. Jolley didn't know about the purchase of Park and her mother, and other important details, which is why her 3,000-word attack couldn't help but be incomplete, at best.

When Jolley gets things half-right, she concludes the worst about Park. She cites an exchange during our podcast "North Korea Today, featuring Casey and Yeonmi." We had been invited to do a special live podcast in front of an audience at an exhibition about North Korean street children. Park wanted to avoid overshadowing the street children feature with her own story.

Jolley twists this to even question if Park had ever eaten grass or dragonflies because she didn't mention it then. We did a separate podcast in which Park talked in detail about eating dragonflies, wild boar, grasshoppers, and sparrows when she was in North Korea.

Jolley clearly missed or ignored that, as well as many other things, in her well-researched article of dots she (understandably so, sometimes) misconnected. In July, Jolley flew into Seoul with a camera, interviewed Park and people around her (including me), then flew out with a big part of the story, but not the sensitive parts that Park wasn't then prepared to discuss on camera.

Unexpectedly emerging as a public figure without a manager and in a language she is still learning, Park has struggled with how to tell the rest of her often embarrassing story while maintaining security and family privacy. It will fall on deaf ears in this instant-news age, but my suggestion: please wait for Park to tell the rest of her story.

Most refugees change their names, are paranoid about their photos being posted publicly and live in terror of being identified by the regime. Some of Jolley's anonymous refugee sources fear reprisal over a simple article. Park uses her real name, courageously speaks out against the regime, and reveals many personal details that get more scrutinized than presidential executive orders.

Conspiracy theorists, North Korean regime sympathizers, and the usual skeptical researchers and disgruntled bloggers are parsing her every word in her third, and only recently learned, language. Park, 21, has been targeted by the North Korean regime and warned by South Korean law enforcement she is putting her family at risk.

Park's critics have even come after me. More than a month before the world learned it, Park told me in a recorded interview about her mother being raped in China. Despite the opportunity for fame and fortune, I didn't take the opportunities to reveal her sensitive information. I will keep Park's security and privacy issues in mind, but I can in good conscience break my silence and respond to critics with attacks full of half-truths and incomplete information.

The writer is director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul, and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu. The views and opinions expressed in the above article are entirely those of the author and do not in any way reflect the thoughts and perspectives of staff at The Korea Times. — ED.



Yes, it is true, I met him. Last night at the Harvard Club of Korea's annual dinner.


Rejecting a dream job - and loving it (The Korea Times, 2014-11-19) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Dearest Casey,

During your current trip to the USA to give a series of speeches in New York, D.C., Tennessee and California, you were delightfully blindsided by a job offer that would pay you more than three times as much as you are now making in South Korea.

A few years ago, after a health scare, you began reflecting on your life and decided that you would only do the things that you wanted to do. People who try to pressure you to do things you don’t want to do have a 100% chance of failing. As you tell such people: "I don’t have to eat everything put on my plate.”

People who give advice you reject are told: "I promise, I won’t stop you from taking your own advice.” You value every moment that you are alive, and will enjoy the rest of your life on your own terms.

For more than two years, you have been focused on helping North Korean refugees, typically using your own funds. You are lucky that Freedom Factory and the Atlas Network both came through with support last year, but the support was more honorary than monetary.

When you received that generous job offer, you had another moment to reflect on the things you do. You could return to America, make much more money than you are making now, helping as a donor rather than a busy-bee and organizer. You love the organizations that you are associated with, but the reality is that you are a one-man think tank with a desk at a start-up think tank. You raise the money to pay your own salary; you are your own editor; you do all of your own media; you are your own supervisor and employee; you go out of your way to praise the many volunteers who have joined up with you, knowing that you rely on them more than they could ever know.

You realized that the job you were being offered would give you the opportunity to have an organization support you fully. Your main task would be to become a talking head on TV, debating and discussing issues of the day. It would be more glamorous than the things you are doing now. As you often tell friends: "Being alive is the only thing more important than being on TV.” Instead of helping feature North Korean refugees and to provide them with assistance to help them find their own paths in this world, you would be featured, groomed to become a talking head. You would have an entire media team, production team, editors, probably a full-time assistant, and other (research, financial, structural) support.

The job offer that you received would pay you enough that you could easily do some of the activities you are engaged in, but do them first class with colleagues tasked with supporting you rather than what you are doing now in relying on donations, minimal financial support, and the many volunteers who have come into your life in the last few years. When you say that you are engaged in NK activism because you want to do it, you mean that. It is out of joy. You have turned down other great job opportunities. When people ask why you are doing it, why do you spend so much time helping North Korean refugees, you usually answer, "Because it should be done. And when I think something should be done, I either do it or find someone else to get it done.”

The ``interview” you suddenly had was certainly unconventional ― you were interviewing and examining them more than they were interviewing you. Job applicants are usually passive, trying not to trip up to eliminate themselves. Not in your case. You wanted to make sure it would be a good fit for you, and for them ― in that order of importance. Yes, they are the ones with the money and the job, but it is about your life and how you are going to live it.

Before the unexpected interview was over, you turned down the job offer. You will probably be more reckless and active when you return to South Korea. Next month, you will be starting your second year with Atlas and Freedom Factory, with the challenge again of raising your own salary and getting things done with people who happen to come into your life and answer your call for help. You will know that you could have returned to America, coasting as a TV political talking head, but you are at peace with that decision now and sure you will be fine with it a year from now when your latest one-year contract will be up.

Co-director of the Teach North Korean Refugees Project--monthly English Matching session

International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees) 
Speaking at North Korean Freedom Awareness Week
Speaker at "Road to Life" rally during 2013 North Korean Freedom Awareness Week 

with my co-director Lee Eunkoo at a workshop on North Korean refugee issues.

Moderating a session with Shin Dong-hyuk and Blaine Harden of Escape from Camp 14.


Website launched: TeachNorthKoreanRefugees.org

Thanks to my co-director, Lee Eunkoo, and my special assistant, Suzanne Stewart, for their additions, corrections, and assistance in setting up the Teach North Korean Refugees website.


N. Korea owes S. Korea $961 million by 2037--but what is LiNK doing?

NK News takes on Liberty in North Korea, writing a well-research editorial with sources asking if LiNK has the right priorities, if it is spending its money well, etc.

There's an old joke where an economist walking down the street:
Friend: "Joe, how is your wife."
Joe: "Compared to what?"

LiNK raised a record $1.5 million last year, and since 2010 has spent $1.3 million on its "changing the narrative" campaign.

Is LiNK spending its money well. Well, compared to what?

$724 million: South Korean government loans to NK government, 2000-07, unpaid
$257 million: South Korean government assistance to North Korea during Lee Myung-bak's administration, 2008-13
$199 million: World Food Programme budget for food aid to North Korea, 2013
$150 million: U.N. appeal in 2013
$29.4 million: U.N. appeal for emergency situation in DPRK, 2013
$15.1 million: U.N. humanitarian fund, 2013
$13.3 million: South Korean humanitarian aid to NK in 2014 
$12 million: South Korean humanitarian aid to NK in 2013
$6.8 million: humanitarian aid from South Korean private aid groups, Feb-Dec 2013.
$6.5 million: Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), 2014
$5.6 million: International Red Cross budget, 2014
$3.2 million: WFP emergency aid to North Korea, 2014
$2.1 million: Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), 2014
$1.5 million: Liberty in North Korea budget, 2013
$1 million: World Vision (USA), 2014

If LiNK spent $1.5 million a year until 2037, it still wouldn't spend as much as the international organizations spend on North Korea.

I love the conclusion of one article: "South Korea says the North is required to pay back a total of $961.53 million by 2037."


A Meaningful Experience (The Korea Times, Nov 5, 2014) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Dearest Casey,
Congratulations! Your colleague Yeonmi Park has been named in the BBC's Top 100 Women in the World 2014. This has meant she has given speeches around the world and been featured in major media such as the New York Times and Huffington Post. This all occurred in the last two weeks of October. Who would have believed she would become so well known internationally?
Actually, you did. You have known it since Feb. 14, 2014, when you spoke together at an international school located outside of Seoul. On the subway coming back from the discussion, you told Yeonmi, one of the 124 North Korean refugees in your Teach North Korean Refugees Project (TNKR), that she had the potential to become a leading advocate for liberty. She didn't believe you, but you offered to help make it happen: "If you don't become a star for liberty, raising awareness and attracting others to get involved, then that will mean I have failed. I feel like a college basketball coach who suddenly realizes Michael Jordan is on his team," you said.
Within two weeks of Yeonmi's debut speech in English, you recruited her to join you as an ambassador of TNKR, a media fellow at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd., and also a co-host of a TV podcast you were planning. That first week, a documentary team came to town and you recommended four refugees as interviewees. They rejected one ― Yeonmi. You pushed them: "Just meet her." They did, and she turned out to be their favorite.

You messaged every TEDx event host in South Korea, but only one responded ― with a polite rejection. You pushed: "Just meet her." They relented, and within 10 minutes of talking with her, the production team was gushing. Six weeks later, the TEDx@hangang audience was astounded.

It happened with other events too ― you pushed for opportunities for her despite hesitation or rejection; then she became a featured speaker. In your first TV podcast together last March, you playfully ignored her in the introduction. She interrupted to ask, "Am I invisible?" Yes, but not for long. A stream of successes came: an SBS (Australian) TV showfeature, a widely republished Washington Post article you co-authored, a slew of documentaries and interviews, the LiNK summit, the Hacking North Korea Summit, the Atlas Network Experience in Hong Kong, the Shanghai Austrian Economics Summit, then her incredible month of October that led to international recognition and awards.

Casey, we know this is not your first rodeo. In 2012, you were co-chair of the committee to get Hyeonseo Lee onto TED (congrats, she was spectacular). You were also a close adviser to North Korean refugees (Yeonmi and Hyeonseo) who spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway on Oct. 21. Two other North Korean refugees (Yeonmi and Jihyun Park) later spoke before the UK Parliament on Oct. 29 as students in the TNKR project you co-founded with Lee Eun-koo.

Friends and foes ask how you did it. Your strategy was simple: 1) Work with anyone and everyone to increase Yeonmi's opportunities, instead of restricting her simply to the Freedom Factory. You would remind her, "Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous." 2) Her English had improved from your first meeting in December 2012, but she sharpened it by studying more than 35 hours a week last winter with volunteer private tutors she met through TNKR. 3) Be on call 24/7 to help her.

You warned her from the beginning that talkers and stalkers would target her, questioning her story, motivation, sincerity, associates. She assured you that she could handle it ― their words, no matter how hateful, couldn't compare with the terror of escaping North Korea, the '"hell" she experienced in China, brushes with death while crossing the Gobi desert to freedom, and threats from the North Korean regime.

Yeonmi opened up, crying as she told you at a café about her mother being raped by a Chinese broker their first night in China, about the ways her family suffered. You talked for a long time on May 1 when she was informed by South Korean law enforcement that she had been put on North Korea's target list, and then on Sep. 5 (your birthday) when she was placed at the top of the DPRK's target list. Was it worth the risk? She concluded then that it was, but you re-consider this from time to time because of the threats and attacks.

When you first started collaborating with Yeonmi, you told her that you had three "rules" for projects: 1) Be proud of what we do. 2) Let's not get sued. 3) Let's have fun.

The world is now seeing what you saw on Feb. 14. Proud? Yep. Sued? Not yet! Had fun? Oh, yeah.

* * *

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu.
original Korea Times link

2012-12-07: first meeting. She could barely speak Eng
2012-12-07: first meeting. She could barely speak English, she barely spoke
2012-12-07: first meeting with Yeonmi. Hyeonseo (on Yeonmi's right) and Yeonmi were featured speakers at last month's Oslo Freedom Forum.

2013-06-19: as Yeonmi was preparing to go overseas, she joined the English Matching program (now, TNKR) for about a month.
2013 (May or June): as Yeonmi was preparing to go overseas, she joined the English Matching program (now, TNKR) for about a month.

2014-01-18 Yeonmi rejoins Teach North Korean Refugees, collects several teachers, studies like a maniac. Here she is with 3 Harvard graduates who were her teachers and mentors.
2014-01-18 Yeonmi rejoins Teach North Korean Refugees, collects several teachers, studies like a maniac. Here she is with 3 Harvard graduates who were her teachers and mentors.

2/14/14--Yeonmi takes a deep breath, then begins her debut speech in English.
2/14/14--Yeonmi takes a deep breath, then begins her debut speech in English.

Yeonmi was a replacement speaker at "Don't Ask My Name," hosted by Casey Lartigue of Freedom Factory a month after he heard Yeonmi's debut speech in English.
3-15-14: Yeonmi was a replacement speaker at "Don't Ask My Name," hosted by Casey Lartigue of Freedom Factory a month after he heard Yeonmi's debut speech in English.
3-17-14: "Am I invisible?" Yeonmi was then, but the whole world sees her now.
3-17-14: "Am I invisible?" Her first words on the podcast we launched then. Yeonmi was invisible then, but the whole world sees her now.

2014-04-26 When Yeonmi wasn't yawning in her university classes, she was studying intensively with English teachers. At one point, it was more than 35 hours a week.
2014-04-26 When Yeonmi wasn't yawning in her university classes, she was studying intensively with English teachers. At one point, it was more than 35 hours a week. I joined this class with Lolu Ayo--3 1/2 hours of non-stop English engaging English studying.

2013-06-04 the TedX team initially rejected her, but you suggested that they meet Yeonmi. Within 10 minutes, they were gushing about her.
2013-06-04 the TedX team initially rejected her, but you suggested that they meet Yeonmi. Within 10 minutes, they were gushing about her.

2013-07-19: Sharing the stage at the Shanghai Austrian Economics Summit. They also took some time to embrace her, then she became the star of the conference.
2014-07-19: Sharing the stage at the Shanghai Austrian Economics Summit. They also took some time to embrace her, then she became the star of the conference.

2013-07-26: Before Tedx speech, she was really nervous. You bought her a pair of boxing gloves for "fighting," she began punching, said she relaxed.^^
2013-07-26: Before Tedx speech, she was really nervous. You bought her a pair of boxing gloves for "fighting," she began punching, said she relaxed.^^

2013-09-06 at the Atlas Network Experience. The night before, she had been informed by law enforcement in South Korea that she had been placed at the top of NK's target list.
2013-09-06 at the Atlas Network Experience. The night before, she had been informed by law enforcement in South Korea that she had been placed at the top of NK's target list.


Casey Lartigue mentioned in Korean-language article about Yeonmi Park

What an honor! I'm mentioned at length in an article about Yeonmi Park in the Chosun-Ilbo, the largest newspaper in South Korea.


박씨는 북한의 실상을 알리기 위해 영어를 공부하기 시작했다. 지난 2009년엔 알파벳만 아는 수준이었지만, 탈북자들에게 영어 교육을 하는 미국인 케이시 라티그를 만난 이후 꾸준히 공부해 지금은 유창하게 영어를 구사한다.

당시 박씨는 미국 드라마인 ‘프렌즈’의 전회를 20번씩 반복해 보는 일도 있었다고 한다. 하루에 9시간 씩 영어를 공부했다. 케이시는 박연미씨 외에도 117명의 탈북자에게 영어를 가르치고 있는데, 박씨는 그 중에서도 가장 성실한 학생이었다고 한다. 박씨는 이후 미국과 코스타리카로 자원 봉사활동도 다녀왔다.

Casey Lartigue, with Yeonmi Park, in Hong Kong recording a TV podcast.


Teach North Korean Refugees Project

On November 1, we will be holding the 20th "Teach North Korean Refugees Project" session. The project launched in March 2013 when Casey Lartigue Jr. and Lee Eunkoo matched 5 North Korean refugees who were teachers in North Korea with 5 English speaking volunteers. The refugees wanted to improve their English in order to improve their chances to become teachers in South Korea. We met at a Toz in Gangnam, matching them.
We have directly matched at least 117 NK refugees and 8 South Koreans who assist NK refugees with 164 English speaking volunteers. We have since hosted numerous sessions with a number of themes matching NK refugees with volunteer English speakers:
* Staff at NGOs helping NK refugees (to help refugees working at NGOs and also helping NGOs build up their capacity) * special summer or winter study sessions (for students who have more free time during the break, look for another session in late December and early to mid January 2015) * Bring or recommend a friend (so many refugees recommend there friends, so we have held two sessions focused on them). * Refugee ladies on TV cable show * Open sessions * Newcomers or beginning speakers (we had two ladies who just gotten out of Hanawon 3 weeks before that join our session) * Rematching sessions (for refugees who lost their teachers for one reason or another)
alumni upload 1 finalWe have two main tracks:
1) For self-improvement. Some want to study for standardized tests, business English, writing, pronunciation, travel. Most of our time is spent on them because they are 90 percent of the refugees who enter our project. Most of them have no desire to become advocates, many are low-profile and just want to improve themselves to make themselves more competitive in this world.
2) to become advocates. We have had a few refugees who also had potential to become advocates for NK human rights.


An Ambiguous Man (The Korea Times, October 22, 2014) by Casey Lartigue Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

I should expect it, but I occasionally get blind-sided in political discussions: A critic will bring up my race.

I'm not saying that race is always irrelevant, but I reject it as a legitimate point in discussions about economic policy or North Korea. In most cases, the people who bring up my race in non-racial discussions are progressives (and usually white, although some blacks join in).

It first happened to me in print back in the 1990s when a columnist wrote a three-part series denouncing me as a sellout in response to a commentary I wrote about excessive government spending.

Based on my interactions, self-identified libertarians and conservatives will typically ask: "What was said?" Self-identified liberals and progressives will typically ask: "Who said it?"

That is, who is the speaker? Who supports her? Is there a corporation/foundation/chaebol in his background? The dancer's background gets more analyzed than the actual dance.

I rarely got such attacks when I was a college student engaged in numerous activities. I was a member of American Indians at Harvard, The Black Students Association, The Objectivist Club of Harvard, the Society of Black Professional Entrepreneurs at the Harvard Law School, the ''Harvard Crimson," Harvard Democrats, and Harvard Republicans. I was a regular at debates, discussions and regularly audited classes all six years I was at Harvard.

I left Harvard, but Harvard hasn't left me. I enjoyed going across different groups and ideologies, learning, but not choosing a side, label or political party. To this day, I rarely vote, sign petitions, or affiliate with a political party or politician.

I didn't realize it then, but to liberals and progressives, I had permanently chosen the wrong side once I joined the Cato Institute.

It didn't matter, for example, that I was one of the key players helping to create a school voucher program for 1,700 low-income children in Washington, D.C. A leading progressive talk-show host dismissed me as ''working against the interests of black people." I got calls from sympathetic and disgruntled school system employees warning me that public school advocates were investigating me and had launched a campaign to find ''dirt" on me.

I ignored the "what's your ‘-ism'" attacks and continued focusing on increasing educational freedom for low-income children, collaborating with Democrats in Congress, a Democrat governor, and the Democrat Mayor of D.C. (I was the substitute speaker for Mayor Williams at a community event, the first and probably last time anyone from Cato will do that).

The only "-ism" that matters to me is metabolism. Political labels are like shortcuts: They can get you to your destination quickly, true, but they can also take you in the wrong direction.

I recently passed my 10th anniversary of not working at the Cato Institute, but progressives still attack me like I was the institute's founder. Or they respond with their "heads-I-win, tails-you-lose" argument by dismissing me as a paid flunkey.

Other organizations I have worked for and been affiliated with ― Fight For Children, the Washington Scholarship Fund, the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association ― don't matter to the critics because I allegedly committed the original sin. In short: Whose side are you on? Who supports you?

I recently had a critic challenge me for quoting 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass' comment: ''I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong" in my defense of NGOs.

I first read Frederick Douglass' three autobiographies when I was about 10 years old. As a teenager in Texas, I saved enough money to buy First Editions of his books published in 1845, 1855, and 1881 and was persistent enough to convince my parents to drive me to Douglass' former home in Washington, D.C.

I couldn't express my feelings when I was invited in 2003 to give the keynote address at the Frederick Douglass home in 2003 and later was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. Despite that history and connection, I get challenged by progressives and ideologues when I quote Douglass.

I used to engage them, but now I keep on keeping on. When critics target my race in non-racial discussions, I will just note that on my birth certificate issued by the state of Texas that my parents were both listed as ''Negroid."

People try to nail a political label onto me, and I move on. When people guess I may be as young as 30 years of age (Haha!), I tell them they are correct no matter which age they guess. I prefer to be an Ambiguous Man judged by my actions rather than arbitrary characteristics. That is even though my critics blinded by rage keep blindsiding me by bringing up my race in non-racial discussions, engaging in ''follow-the-money" games, or trying to nail a label on me.

The writer is the 
Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu.



Yeonmi Park Fall 2014 tour (Europe and USA) media roundup

BBC World Service--"21-year-old Yeonmi Park and her epic escape from North Korea"
BBC Radio--"Lies cannot last forever"--North Korea defector on her home country
Independent (UK)--"When Silence is not an option" Yeonmi Park profiled by the Independent (UK)
Yahoo News--"Escaping North Korea: one refugee's story"
Al Jazeera--"A Life in Exile, escaping North Korea" http://m.aljazeera.com/story/20141015154253291240
Al Jazeera Facebook page--https://www.facebook.com/aljazeera/posts/10152867626258690
Radio Free Asia--"탈북자 박연미 씨, 유럽서 북 인권 고발"
Lollipop--"Pretty law student becomes international celebrity after daring escape from North Korea"
Huffington Post--"One Young World Conference That Established The First Rape Clinic In Somalia, Kicks Off In Dublin"
One Young World--"Dublin welcomes young leaders from 194 countries to One Young World"
Giirl Meets World--"What is it really like in North Korea?"
Public Radio International--"She risked her life to defect from North Korea — now she wants the world to hear her story"
Yeonmi Park
Yeonmi Park