Learn­ing English opens de­fec­tors’ eyes to the world

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page - BY PARK YUNA

Lee Geun-hyuck was an or­di­nary stu­dent in North Korea. He only knew a few words of English.

“My teacher in North Korea used to say, ‘You need to learn English to know your en­emy [the United States],’” he re­calls. “I thought that was the only rea­son to learn the lan­guage. It was use­less to learn English.”

But when his mother urged him to cross the bor­der and de­fect in 1998 at the age of 17, he started to re­con­sider. And when he set­tled into his new life in South Korea, English be­came an even greater ne­ces­sity.

In 2012, when he was work­ing in over­seas sales for Kolon In­dus­tries, Lee stum­bled upon a pro­gram called English for the Fu­ture (EFF) run by the Bri­tish Coun­cil in Seoul.

Since EFF was launched in 2011, the Bri­tish Coun­cil has given free English lessons to 134 de­fec­tors from North Korea. The coun­cil has sent 11 out­stand­ing stu­dents to Eng­land for fur­ther study: seven stu­dents last year, and four this year.

Lee was one of the stu­dents sent to South Thames Col­lege in London this year for an English sum­mer pro­gram from June 29 to Au­gust 22. The trip to Eng­land was an aha mo­ment for Lee, es­pe­cially when he had a chance to meet Hugo Swire, a Min­is­ter of State at the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, and two other mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who wanted to hear the de­fec­tors’ sto­ries and dis­cuss hu­man right is­sues in North Korea.

Dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, Swire ex­pressed his in­ter­est in in­tro­duc­ing a BBC World Ser­vice Korean lan­guage broad­cast for cit­i­zens of North Korea to learn about the out­side world. He asked ad­vice from the EFF stu­dents.

The con­ver­sa­tion broke down a wall in Lee’s mind to­ward Western­ers.

“I used to re­gard the Western­ers as our en­e­mies on the Korean Penin­sula as I was taught in North Korea, and that con­cept re­mained for a long time in my head,” Lee said. “It was shock­ing for me to re­al­ize those of­fi­cials wanted to hear about our ex­pe­ri­ences and invest money in a pro­gram even though it wasn’t di­rectly re­lated to their own coun­try.”

For Lee, the main rea­son he be­gan to study English in South Korea was be­cause he met many for­eign­ers work­ing in the area of North Korean hu­man rights. Even when he was in the North, he didn’t pay at­ten­tion to peo­ple who suf­fered from hunger, never even con­sid­er­ing a life spent help­ing oth­ers, he said.

“I was skep­ti­cal about their ef­forts at first, but then felt ashamed, en­coun­ter­ing the sin­cer­ity of those for­eign­ers work­ing for NGOs to im­prove hu­man rights in North Korea,” he said.

With his hos­til­ity grad­u­ally dis­pelled, Lee now be­lieves that such rel­a­tively small ef­forts by for­eign­ers may be able to in­flu­ence North Korean so­ci­ety in the long run.

“I be­lieve there is an in­vis­i­ble force be­hind those ef­forts to change the North,” he says. “Who else would know about North Korea bet­ter than de­fec­tors like me? I want to help those for­eign­ers by bet­ter ex­plain­ing the sit­u­a­tion in the North. I have found my iden­tity in talk­ing with them.”

Serena, who re­quested anonymity and the use of a pseu­do­nym to iden­tify her, joined the EFF in 2012 and was among the four who trav­eled to Eng­land this year.

Com­ing from an area near the North Korea- China bor­der,

Korea and China have nearly come to the end of ne­go­ti­a­tions on a bi­lat­eral free trade agree­ment (FTA), which have so far lasted nearly 30 months.

Ahead of a pres­i­den­tial sum­mit sched­uled for to­day be­tween Korea and China, trade of­fi­cials from both gov­ern­ments made last-minute ef­forts yes­ter­day in Beijing, where the Asi­aPa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) con­fer­ence is be­ing hosted, to con­clude the 14th round of talks on the Kore­aChina FTA.

The of­fi­cials are ex­pected to con­tinue ne­go­ti­a­tions overnight to nar­row dif­fer­ences on a few is­sues: when to open both coun­tries’ agri­cul­tural and fish­eries mar­kets; what types of com­mer­cial goods will be freely traded; how to open the ser­vice mar­ket; and how to set prod­uct-spe­cific rules of ori­gin, among oth­ers.

Pend­ing a suc­cess­ful ar­range­ment, Korean Trade Min­is­ter Yoon Sang-jick and his Chi­nese coun­ter­part, Gao Hucheng, will con­duct a min­is­te­rial meet­ing prior to the sum­mit to of­fi­cially con­clude ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Korea wants to cat­e­go­rize its agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and some com­mer­cial goods man­u­fac­tured by small busi­nesses as su­per-sen­si­tive items in or­der to pro­tect those mar­kets, while China wants Korea to fully open them. China also wants to keep its com­mer­cial goods mar­ket from be­ing ex­posed to com­pe­ti­tion with strong Korean man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Of­fi­cials had an­tic­i­pated ear­lier last week that FTA ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Korea and China would con­clude with­out is­sue, in part due to a fa­vor­able at­mos­phere be­tween the two gov­ern­ments.

On Thurs­day, the two sides held an all-night ne­go­ti­a­tion ses­sion on the ex­tent to which they would open their agri­cul­tural mar­kets and reached some sort of agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to an of-

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