11/19/14

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.


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

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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 

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


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

11/14/14

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.

11/5/14

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."



11/4/14

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
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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.