This program is organized by Duke faculty/staff in collaboration with DukeEngage. 

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Program Dates

May 21 - July 18

Service Focus 

Assisting with the educational goals and social adjustment of young North Korean refugees and migrant children of various ethnic and national backgrounds in South Korea.

Service themes: 

  • Immigration/refugees 
  • Education/literacy 
  • Children/youth services

Program Leaders

  • , Program Director, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Program in the Arts of the Moving Image, Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University. Her research and teaching interests include the politics of cultural memories in East Asia, with a focus on Korea and Japan, as well as their legacies across the pacific, in relation to American Studies.
  • , Site Coordinator. Eunyoung Kim is Korean Language Lecturer in the Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. Professor Kim’s specialization is in Korean language acquisition as a second language and curriculum development for the Korean language program.


During their two months in South Korea, students will work in educational facilities for North Korean and other migrant/refugee communities, focusing on issues such as education, adjustment, and other well-being concerns of the community members. This program engages with both the challenges and opportunities arising from shifting demographics and the changing fabric of South Korean society with refugees from North Korea and economic migrants from Russia, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere. It focuses on engaging the everyday realities of this changing social dynamic, recognizing and apprehending the complexity of the situation and building friendships and working towards mutual transformation of both engagers and the community members.

The program was established from the program directors’ community networks in South Korea over decades of living and working in the country. The program was created with the recognition that mutual benefits could be achieved through building connections among the needs of the local community and Duke students by sharing curriculum and programmatic resources and interests. Students will devote most of their time to two main sites: an alternative school for multicultural/ethnic children located in the capital city of Seoul (3-4 weeks) and a boarding school for North Korean refugee children and youths in Yŏju, a small town about 1 ½ hour away by car located southeast of Seoul (3-4 weeks). In the multicultural school in Seoul, students will spend approximately four hours in the classroom each day, contributing to English language teachings and other extracurricular activities – sports, art, computer skills, and so on – conducted in English. In the boarding school for North Korean refugees in Yŏju, students regularly meet and talk with the boarders and share break and meal times. Students will contribute to building a sustainable community by assisting at the community vegetable garden and domestic livestock pen that supply food for boarders. They will also design individual projects for enhancing interaction and communication with the boarders. Students will be serving, on average, 30-40 hours/week throughout the program.

During the first week of the program, students will participate in a week-long seminar hosted by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification at its campus in Seoul’s Suyu neighborhood. Students will learn about and discuss topics ranging from daily life in North Korea to unification policies. All sessions will be conducted in English and Duke students will be interacting with other college students from around the world. Field trips to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border area between North Korea and South Korea, and other areas rarely accessible to the public, will also be arranged as part of the program.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes


  • Improve interpersonal skills that are increasingly viewed as important skills in achieving success in professional and personal spheres.
  • Develop civic responsibility through active community involvement.
  • Allow the energy and enthusiasm of college students to contribute to the support of community partner vision and mission.
  • Foster an ethic of service and civic participation in students who will be tomorrow’s volunteers and civic leaders.
  • Be concerned about local and global community issues, and their interrelations.


  • Be comfortable working with cultures other than their own.
  • Know about different cultures of people in other countries.
  • Understand that there are different perspectives on international issues.
  • Recognize that what they do in their jobs or work might have implications beyond the local community 

Service Opportunities

  • Institute for Unification Education (branch of Ministry of Unification) (Seoul)
    Activities: intellectual participation in seminars and workshops on North and South Korean relations; visit DMZ. Dates: May 22-26.
  • Multi-ethnic school in metropolis of Seoul (i.e. Chiguch’on School)
    Activities: work with elementary and middle school students; support classes in English; create and engage in extracurricular activities. Dates: May 29-June 23.
  • School for North Korean refugees in the outskirts of Seoul (i.e. Mulmangch’o School in the rural community of Yŏju)
    Activities: work with elementary and high school students; help with farming work; create and engage in extracurricular activities. Dates: June 26-July 14.

All participating students will work at all locations. They will be serving together at the Institute for Unification education, and at the other schools. Students will be serving on average 30-40 hours/week throughout the program.

Program Requirements

Language: Fluency in English. Fluency or proficiency in Korean language is NOT required for all students. Students from diverse backgrounds will be considered.

Coursework: It is mandatory to take a group independent study in the spring before the program. There will be seven 90-minute sessions throughout the spring semester (Thursday evenings, 6:30-8:00pm, every other week). This course will prepare the students by familiarizing them with some basic knowledge about modern Korean history, North Korean defectors’ issues, and some of the challenges that the students will face in their work with the North Korean defectors’ children, as well as issues related to other minority communities in a globalizing South Korea. Most importantly, through this course, the students will be able to build a sense of community and friendship with one another in earnest before the program commences.

Other Skills: Ability to assist in teaching of English, music and physical education to elementary, middle, and high school students; digital camera operation, blogging, and image-uploading. There is no minimum GPA requirement, and we encourage students from a variety of majors and professional aspirations to apply.

Personal Qualities:

  • Ability to manage stress in novel environments – exemplified by the ability to recognize and regulate stress reactions in themselves and calmly practice coping strategies that work for them; seeks help from others when they feel overwhelmed. Students will be facing situations that may not be familiar and need to have the ability to cope under these novel circumstances.
  • Ability to work productively on a supervised team – responds to feedback and critique from co-workers and supervisors with maturity and openness to improvement; listens actively and communicates courteously; responds with patience and perseverance to new or unanticipated situations and obstacles; accepts responsibility for their actions; balances their personal expectations of the DukeEngage volunteer experience with the realities of working on short-term projects in new cultural and workplace settings. Students will be required to work in teams in facing daily challenges on site.
  • Empathy and cultural sensitivity – effectively and respectfully communicates and interacts with people of different ages, races, religions, and cultures; demonstrates curiosity about the lives of others without judgment. Students will be immersed in a new cultural environment, interacting with children and adults from a different culture and need to have the capacity to interact in an open-minded and respectful way.

Program Details

Community Description: The program will take place in three sites, divided between the metropolitan city of Seoul and the rural outskirts. Students will spend one week on the campus of the Institute for Unification Education in Seoul, where students will eat, sleep, study, and make use of the surrounding mountains. The Institute is within the city of Seoul, but nestled in a mountain range, with a quiet ambiance. Students will also serve in a multicultural school (i.e. Chiguch’on School), also located within the metropolitan city of Seoul, where students will work for three to four weeks. Students will also serve on a campus for North Korean refugees (i.e., Mulmangch’o School), nestled in the rural community of Yŏju, one and a half hours from Seoul. Here, students will spend approximately three to four weeks engaging with North Korean settlers. These locations are all safe and convenient for travel. The climate in Seoul and the rest of South Korea is relatively mild, with four distinct seasons, similar to the climate of North Carolina. Summers tend to be warm (average 80 degrees Fahrenheit) to hot (average 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit), with high humidity. Students will experience both the comforts and inconveniences of metropolitan city living as well as a more remote rural experience. Some of the sites may have limited resources compared with what Duke students may be used to, such as smaller and shared communal spaces, group meal times, etc. that may take adjustment. Students will have the opportunity to learn about how to work with and optimize outcomes based on resource limitations.

Housing and Meals: At the Institute for Unification Education, students will live in a dormitory with two people per room. Shared rooms will be available for the rest of the program, with approximately two or three people per room. There will be electricity, internet access in common areas, bathrooms with showers, and a small kitchen. Laundry facilities will be available either on-site or nearby. During engagements in Seoul, students live in a convenient metropolitan city near a major university area and public transportation, and during engagements in the outskirts, students will live in a rural environment, near farming areas, relatively remote and quiet, but with regular transportation options (taxis and buses) for local travel and for travel into the city center.

All meals will be provided at the Institute for Unification Education, and possibly at other housing sites as well. If you are vegetarian, you might run into some difficulty with food choices, since meals are often pre-prepared for all residents on campus and purely vegetarian foods are rare. For the rest of the program, meals will be either purchased from local bakeries and restaurants or made at the apartment with groceries purchased at local markets.

If you do not eat certain types of food for cultural, religious or personal reasons, please contact the DukeEngage office, , to discuss whether or not your dietary needs can be reasonably accommodated at this program site.

Transportation: Students will use public transportation at all sites. Subway and bus passes will be provided. The commute time each day should be between 20 and 40 minutes. For weekend field trips, bus/train or airline tickets will be provided by the program and purchased as a group.

Communication: All students will be provided with a local cell phone and reasonable minute usage. Free internet will be available in most places. Students will not be required to use their own computers at work, but having one during the program would be helpful for learning and communicating.

Opportunities for Reflection: Led by either the site coordinator or the program director, reflective sessions will take place once a week. Sessions will entail sharing thoughts and concerns about the engagement experience and devising ways for resolution. Topics include challenges faced during the engagement and interpersonal dynamics, as well as working together toward improving or resolving problems that may arise. Group and personal blogging on a regular basis will be a required part of the engagement.

Other Opportunities: Rooms will be shared by two or three people. Three or four evenings of the week and most Sundays will be available for free time—to be spent studying, writing, or seeing the local areas, either on one’s own or with others. Other evenings and weekends will be used for reflection sessions, preparation for teaching and other activities for the schools, and field trips. There will be opportunities to engage with local community members as well as Duke alumni who may be in the area during the time period.

More Information


  • Sonia Ryang, Reading North Korea: an Ethnological Inquiry (Harvard University Asia Center, 2012)
  • Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (W.W. Norton, 2005)
  • Charles K. Armstrong. Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992 (Cornell University Press, 2013)

Films (available at Lilly Library):

  • The Journals of Musan (Pak Chŏng‐bŏm 2010 South Korea)
  • Dooman River (Zhang Lu, 2011 China)
  • Joint Security Area JSA (Pak Ch’an‐uk 2000, South Korea)
  • Secret Reunion (Chang Hun 2010, South Korea)

Curricular Connections

  • Trauma and Space in Asia (AMES 410S)
  • North Korea: Political Economy & Culture (AMES 475S) World of Korean Cinema (AMES 471)
  • Modern Korean Buddhism (AMES 376S)
  • Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic and Sociolinguistic Perspectives (AMES 308S)
  • Korean Sociolinguistics (AMES 378S)
  • Religion and Culture in Korea (AMES 490S)
  • Interethnic Intimacies (AMES 415S)
  • Korean Literature in Translation (AMES 272S)
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