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In order to graduate (Park 1)

16 0 17
Casey Lartigue Jr. and Yeonmi Park
By Casey Lartigue Jr.

Two North Korean refugee sisters graduated from college this past February, one in New York City, the other in South Korea. Their paths in life diverged 13 years ago when they were separated during the chaos of escaping from North Korea.

The younger sister who graduated in New York City is now a public speaker and author. She gained international recognition with a speech that reportedly has been viewed more than 80 million times. The older sister who graduated in South Korea was recently hired as an elementary school teacher, teaching far fewer South Korean children.

Both sisters studied in a non-profit I co-founded in 2013. The younger sister, Yeonmi Park, author of the book "In Order to Live," studied English intensively during 2013-14 before her harrowing speech grabbed international attention. We worked together closely during 2014, on a regular podcast as well and she became the first North Korean refugee ambassador of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR). I still remember the moment she called me, almost screaming, "They found my sister!"

She and her mother had been searching for Yeonmi's sister from the moment they were separated during their chaotic escape from North Korea. As we talked one day, Yeonmi began crying, saying she might never see her sister again. That day had arrived, however. After going through the South Korean government's investigation and readjustment time, her sister was released into South Korean society. Three weeks later, in May 2014, Eunmi joined her sister Yeonmi as a student in our program.

Yeonmi was "living in English" ― during 2014 she studied with 18 tutors in 8 months, some weeks studying up to 35 hours a week 1:1. Yeonmi estimated she had learned English in 18 months. She credited three main things:

One: "Friends." Yes, the American TV show "Friends." Can anyone learn English from watching a TV sit-com? Yeonmi says she watched all 10 seasons of 24 episodes of "Friends" more than 20 times. She still watches it, but says, "I stopped counting" after watching the........

© The Korea Times