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A charity is seeking English-speaking expats to become personal tutors for North Korean refugees. People for Successful Corean Reunification currently has 144 students in need of private teachers.
PSCORE was established in 2006 by young North Korean defectors, South Korean university students and foreigners interested in reunifying the Korean Peninsula. It offers support for North Korean refugees here as well as campaigning for the human rights of those remaining in the country. Part of its work includes supporting young defectors’ education in the South. Its one-on-one education program focuses on the needs of the individual student, an important factor for new settlers here.
“It is clear that the dropout rate for North Korean students is well above average,” explained a PSCORE spokesperson. Many of the students the organization helps came to South Korea alone, while many others live in single-parent households.
“Soon after fleeing from the North, many North Koreans find a whole host of difficulties adapting to South Korean society,” the spokesperson said. “Frequently, these students attend classes where most of their classmates are younger than they are, and thus commonly feel the need to complete their education as quickly as possible.”
A PSCORE tutor teaches a North Korean refugee, whose identity has been protected in this picture.( PSCORE) The higher standards of education in the South means that even North Koreans who have completed primary education are left struggling.

To help combat this problem, PSCORE has registered 1,224 volunteer tutors and 553 North Korean defector students since 2009, and 96 tutors are currently paired-up and working with students now.

Seoul National University graduate student Markus Bell is one of them. “I think that the PSCORE tutoring program is an immensely positive thing,” the 30-year-old from New Zealand said. “I really appreciate the relationships I can form with the students. A lot of them don’t have other foreign friends, so I am the representative of what a foreigner is. I try to always be a good ear to them and give them good advice.” He said that his Korean skills have helped him teach his two students, both in their early 20s. “We are starting from the very beginning in terms of their English ability,” he said. “If I couldn’t speak to them in Korean I wouldn’t be able to teach them. I have to explain a lot about the language and also about cultural gaps. “As well as teaching them the basics, I try to explain to them how English could be useful to them in future.”
Although Korean language skills were not essential, as students with more English knowledge would be paired with tutors who cannot speak Korean, Markus said that approaching the role with an open mind was important. “You need to realize that many of these people have had difficult times in the past and you may hear some things that surprise you and you may have to deal with some things that you wouldn’t usually deal with,” he said. Most of those currently seeking tutors would like to learn English, though some are also seeking instruction in art, music or computers.
PSCORE will try to match volunteers with students in their area following a brief interview at its Seoul headquarters in Omokgyo Subway Station. Those interested in becoming a tutor can register on the PSCORE website: or e-mail [email protected] for more information.