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An Instructor’s Tutoring Stories (15th term)

Volunteer Instructor, Ji-ah Kim

The number of North Koreans escaping to the South increases every year. It pains me to read their stories of struggling to adjust to South Korea’s society, and I always had the thought of doing something to help.
One day, I found out about PSCORE while browsing the internet and I was excited to learn of an opportunity for me to share my education. However, a part of me worried if I could actually manage the distress and pain of those North Korean students that I had only read about. I believe that a volunteer instructor’s role is not merely transferring knowledge to the student, but it is about being a mentor for the student. After a term of tutoring ends, I wanted to remain a mentor who is available to counsel the student during the course of his or her life. With this resolve, I began tutoring for PSCORE. My tutee called to thank me this past May 15, Teacher’s Day, and I cried because I felt that my determination was well received.

PSCORE connected me with a student by the name of __ Hong. Because it had been a while since my tutee left North Korea, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what he/she struggled with in South Korean society. On the contrary, my tutee had clear goals and a passion for learning that made it enjoyable for me to teach him/her English. In the first session, I tested his/her level of English to find the study materials suitable for him/her. Just after two months, it pleased me to see him/her understand such grammatical structures as passive voice and relative pronouns.

Before meeting my tutee, I participated in the instructors’ meetings that met once every two months. There, I heard the volunteer instructors share their joys and pains of tutoring the North Korean students. While I understood much of the instructors’ difficulties, I wondered on the one hand, if the instructor’s curiosity about North Korea was perpetuating the predicament. It might be a natural tendency for an instructor to expect a student to open up to him or her and share stories about North Korea outside of lesson time. However, the students may have had troubling experiences during the escape and I do not see the need for any instructor to insist on having his or her student recollect those painful memories. I would like to suggest that for those who are considering being volunteer tutors, for the benefit of establishing a deep relationship with a student, try to maintain a posture that “does not seek to receive even a little amount, but gives generously.”

Through being a volunteer instructor, I have gained much more than experience. Our tutoring stopped because my tutee had to move, but we still keep in touch. I am grateful that I can be a compass for my student living in South Korean society. I would like to thank PSCORE for providing me with this opportunity.