Before Pscore’s Halloween party in Hongdae last year, Brian Gleason was excited to help his North Korean students pick out their first costumes. He said the disguises allowed them the rare chance to shed the “North Korean” label and interact simply as people.
Established by North Koreans, South Koreans and foreigners, Pscore is dedicated to promoting the cause of reunification and helping defectors navigate South Korea’s complex society.
For Lee Hyeon-seo, a 28-year-old North Korean defector that has been studying with Pscore for six months, forming relationships with her foreign friends has allowed her to build confidence and explore her individuality. “Sometimes I feel tired managing my part-time jobs, studying with Pscore and for college classes. But I cherish these things because they help me build confidence,” she said.
Seventy percent of Pscore’s students take advantage of its English tutoring program. There is a pool of 726 volunteer teachers that 195 students can draw from.
Lee studies English through Pscore up to twice a week. Although English proficiency is the end goal, it also encourages the exchange of culture, which is something she says she appreciates.
“My English has improved quite a bit in a short period of time and I now have no problem with simple communication. It has made a profound difference in my life. Of course, I think will power is an important factor in this,” she said.
Kim Young-il – now Pscore’s executive director – defected one year into his North Korean military service when he was 19 years old and landed in South Korea after his 23rd birthday.
“We are happy when we hear from our students that their grades rose due to our education programs. Many have said they passed college exams and scores on English tests like TOEIC improved because of us,” said Kim.
Since co-founding Pscore, he has dedicated himself to promoting reunification and helping other defectors.
Pscore’s mission is to find mutually beneficial economic solutions for reunification. Pscore also helps defectors in two ways. It has developed an education program for teenage defectors based on a one-on-one tutoring program for any subject they need help with.
Pscore has also taken up the cause of North Koreans’ human rights by providing venues for seminars, conducting essay contests, and holding English camps.
“(English education) was the most difficult part for defectors. Having no friends or family was the other huge challenge,” said Kim. “We teach them English, but the more important purpose of our programs is to help them establish their identity and build self-esteem.”
“PSCORE is a bridge,” Gleason said, “connecting North Koreans with their friends in every direction, not just to the south.” “Although the country remains divided, they’ve proven that their friendships can permeate even the most heavily militarized border in the world.”
WHAT WHAT YOU CAN DO
For more information on Pscore, visit www.pscore.org. For information on volunteering, click on 참여마당 on the Korean website. They can be reached by phone at (02) 6497-5035 from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.
“Volunteering strengthens the community because it gives its members a personal stake in improving their surroundings. During difficult times, especially when government assistance is insufficient, ordinary citizens are compelled to invest their own time and energy to help fill the void. In the process, volunteers become more connected to others around them and the community becomes more integrated.”
– Pscore volunteer Brian