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English program begins for N. Korea defectors

The British Embassy in South Korea has launched a program to provide North Korean students with English language training, internships and overseas study opportunities.

“We have noticed that English language can be a real barrier for new settlers who strive to access the good jobs and higher education opportunities that South Korea has to offer,” said British Ambassador Martin Uden.

The ability to speak English has become valuable skill for professional, and therefore social, advancement in the South.
British Ambassador Martin Uden (center) with Jean Lee (left), Seoul bureau chief of the Associated Press, and Kim Jung-roh, director of policy cooperation division of the Ministry of Unification, at a press briefing on the launch of the British Embassy English language program for North Korean defectors. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
British Ambassador Martin Uden (center) with Jean Lee (left), Seoul bureau chief of the Associated Press, and Kim Jung-roh, director of policy cooperation division of the Ministry of Unification, at a press briefing on the launch of the British Embassy English language program for North Korean defectors. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

The program called “English for the Future” is open to North Korean new-settlers over 18 years of age and includes English language tuition at the British Council, three-month internships at various companies in Korea such as the Associated Press and a scholarship for postgraduate study in the United Kingdom.

“Now that there are over 21,000 new settlers (from North Korea) here, it is increasingly clear that their integration into South Korean society is not just an issue of importance for themselves,” he said.

The British Embassy expects that the program will be ongoing following this year’s launch.

“The success of their lives in the South is a test case for future links between the two halves of the divided peninsula,” said Uden.

Another significant handicap for many North Korean defectors making a home in the South is their lack of experience in large organizations.

“Work experience is a challenge for many young people but it is even harder for young people from the new-settler community to secure prestigious internships that are so often the first important step on the career ladder,” he said.

With this program, the British Council and the embassy are bringing social responsibility to the forefront.

Last year, the British Council and embassy gave 10 people places on English language courses at the British Council.

This year they are giving one year of English language education at the British Council to 47 new settlers.

Internships will be for three months for nine new settlers.

The British Embassy will also offer a one-year scholarship for postgraduate study in the United Kingdom for one settler with hopes of increasing that number in the future.

“We have been working on this for 6 months,” Uden said. “The first students will start courses next month, the first internships will start this summer, and our first postgraduate scholar will start their studies in the U.K. this autumn.”

A North Korean settler who requested anonymity said that her lack of English skills had been a big barrier since starting life in South Korea.

“Many South Korean students start learning English from earlier ages, but I did not have any chance to study the language in (North Korea),” the 30-year-old North Korean defector said.

She arrived here about six years ago via China and is majoring in social welfare at a South Korean university.

“When I first entered the university, I almost gave up learning English and wanted to develop my Chinese,” she said.

“Many of the university courses are taught in English these days and it was really hard to catch up.”

After a year of attending the British Council’s program, she found that her English improved to pre-intermediate level and she no longer “avoids foreigners on the street when they speak English” to her.

She plans to take an ILETS test at the end of the course.

“My career plan is to work in an international organization like the UN after graduating from the university this September,” she said.

(yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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