One of the worst things one of our volunteers said a few years ago when one of the refugees had another speaking opportunity: “Oh, I’ve already heard that refugee’s speech, so I won’t be missing anything.”
She didn’t mean to be rude, I’m sure. It is mainly a misunderstanding about what we are trying to do with our Track 2 (public speaking) program. So many people look at refugee speakers in a snapshot, that when they hear a refugee speaker once, they’ve got that refugee’s story, and they are ready to move on to the next refugee. What they don’t know is that many refugees develop their speeches. We don’t expect them to be perfect or polished speakers when they first join TNKR, we expect they will develop.
There are many refugees who have no concept of public speaking with they first start with us. And even though many reporters and their editors want to hear from refugees who have just escaped from North Korea, the reality is that many newcomers don’t really have that much to stay.
When there is a debate about which term to use, refugee or defector, I make the point that some refugees become defectors because they learn a lot about North Korea after they arrive in South Korea. I have seen a few who have gotten angry when they learned more about the evil North Korean regime. For some of them, it just seemed to be a problem with local officials, that someone with power had targeted them, or a family member’s problems had made staying untenable. After escaping, they learned that it was a bigger problem, that the system was designed to strip them of their rights and humanity.
My point is that a speaker you see in 2015 will probably be different from the speaker you see in 2018 and beyond. We sometimes struggle with coaches because they want to take shortcuts, put words in the mouths of refugees, even want to write speeches for the refugees. Some get bothered by our restrictions, but we want the refugees to develop their speeches based on their own ideas and their own intellectual and personal development.
That has definitely been true of Ken Eom. When he first joined us in March 2015, I wasn’t sure that we should allow him to speak at another event. I won’t discuss the problems, but I did talk to his coaches to give them pointed feedback.
He has done a lot of reading about North Korea, sharpened his English, done a lot of thinking, and given many speeches. We now have a case of a man who was once loyal to the North Korean regime now giving stories denouncing it.
Ken is now studying policy analysis in grad school and already has many opinions, he can tell stories about his life, analysis about North Korea, and even dabble in public policy. I can tell that he is not interested in continuing to repeat the same stories about his life, like a musician who grows tired of singing his first hit and wants to expand to new music. Last week Ken did both, telling his escape story from North Korea but also mixing his analysis and commentary about North Korea.