The International Republican Institute (IRI) and Sungshin Women’s University, a leading university in Seoul, Republic of Korea, completed the second year of a partnership for the Education Program for Free Citizens. The Education Program for Free Citizens is a program that trains and educates university-age North Korean defector students to help them understand the core values of democracy, universal human rights and a free market economy. The program graduated 24 students in its second year.
IRI and Sungshin first partnered in 2007 to develop the program with the objective to support North Korean defector students who had the potential to emerge as leaders within their communities. The first year of the program, which lasted from September 2007 to June 2008, graduated 26 students.
The two 15-week sessions, which began in September 2008, consisted of theoretical and practical lessons through lectures, discussion groups and field trips. Lecture topics ranged from a citizen’s role in a democratic society to experiencing market economy to self-expression and communication. Sungshin professors, business leaders and guests scholars participated in the lecture sessions. Field trips included visits to the Korean National Assembly, the Dong-A Daily Newspaper Museum and the Hyundai Heavy Industry.
Since the program began in 2007, IRI and Sungshin have witnessed an increased interest in such lessons from North Korean defector students. In fact, many of the participants in the second year applied after hearing the positive experiences of the students from the first year class. Youngho Kim, the program director at Sungshin, said that the program was successful in providing the systemic support to help North Korean college refugee students to become the future leaders of the North Korean refugee community. Chul-Won Kang, a former student, said that the Sungshin program was very helpful in understanding the basic ideas of liberal democracy and market economy.
Students who have participated in the program have been proactively engaged and eager to learn. Upon graduation, one student commented that the program should be expanded so more North Korean defector students would have the opportunity to learn lessons that will make them successful and strong leaders. The students graduated from the Sungshin program are currently pursuing their careers in South Korean society which includes the college reporter at a main daily newspaper, a chief executive officer of an Internet shopping mall and the chairman of North Korean defectors’ youth associationTop