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2018-01-16 Celebrating her birthday with us


I already knew about her even before she escaped to South Korea! But would she ever make it to South Korea? Yes, she did, after being missing for seven years! Eunmi joined Freedom Speakers International (formerly Teach North Korean Refugees) three weeks after she was released from Hanawon in 2014.

There are so many things I could say about her. There are so many special moments and memories with her over the years.

One of the most special ones was when she came to our office in 2018 to celebrate her birthday. How many students return to a school or organization to celebrate like this?

Her English is great now! Back in 2014, she was at the A-B-C level of English. Now we can talk and hold conversations in English. And she teases me in English. When she is fluent, I am sure will start bullying me! Of course, I look forward to that, and will love the beatings.

* * *

Two of my favorite photos with her.

1) The one at the top of this post. She stood on her tippy-toes to make herself look taller, so of course I did the same thing to neutralize her move. Of course, she wasn't going to allow that. So you can see her stepping on my foot to stop me from standing up higher.

I started to catch on, and would preempt her move by stepping on her foot first.

2) One of the times when I tutored her. I had recorded things for her in the past as part of her studies and for one of the speeches she gave at our events, and I even tutored her a few times. This photo is special because her English had improved so much. That session taught me quite a bit about approaching classes and I would use the lessons I learned in orientation sessions with volunteer tutors.

* * *

Another special moment was when she gave a speech on the US military base. As she made clear at that time, she was interested in becoming a school teacher, not a public speaker. Learning about public speaking could be a skill that could help her with that.

I mentioned her briefly in this Korea Times column. Even the translator cried (

* * *

A few years ago, I was talking with the leader of an institution focused on North Korean refugees. He was complaining that North Korean refugees he had helped never returned to thank him. I won't identify him, but from what I know about him, he has done many things. 

I mentioned that many of our students, former and current, often return to see us, send us messages saying hello and thanking us. Then I innocently asked why he thought they didn't return to him. He griped for a few more minutes about them not being grateful. I felt like he had answered my question (and probably also explained why the students didn't return to him).

Even if you haven't started your own non-profit, you might understand why it is so special when students like Eunmi call or message to see if they can visit. Many people work in fields and companies where they are more likely to get complaints rather than compliments from their clients and customers. 

So you may understand the special memory of Eunmi coming to celebrate her birthday with us. I have now known her for almost seven years, and expect to know her forever.

* * *

Below are more photos with some of her tutors. The first year or two she was completely anonymous so we didn't take photos of her.

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