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Two Countries, One Vision

Today’s youth are inspired by the idea that they can drive meaningful, lasting change in their countries. While attending IRI’s Generation Democracy 2018 Global Summit in Vienna, Austria, two young leaders, one from South and one from North Korea, met for the first time. While the governments of North and South Korea take small steps towards the idea of a fresh beginning, these two young inspiring people are working toward the same cause - ‑a more open and free North Korea.

Two very different countries, two very different experiences. But, one vision.

At the conference IRI asked the North and South Korean participants to share their story. They shared their collective vision for a more peaceful future and how they will continue to work to elevate the voice of youth. After the conference, the young leaders decided to share their story and lessons learned with a larger audience. They wrote this letter, and we thought there was no better place to post it but on Democracy Speaks.

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Hi! I’m Nayoung, a South Korean activist working for the Youth Forum for North Korean Democratization (YFNKD). YFNKD works to unite students from South Korea and North Korean refugees to advocate for change in North Korea. I currently work as their international coordinator where I connect YFNKD with organizations in other countries also working to advance North Korean democratization.

And I’m Myeongro; I am a North Korean defector who escaped North Korea in June 2017.

When I was young, my dream was to go abroad, but I never dreamed that my first time overseas would be by sailing a small boat to reach South Korea. For two and a half years, I studied everything I could about sailing— wind patterns, engines and even the radar range of North Korean warships until finally I sailed my family over 800 kilometers for 56 hours to reach South Korea. Now my goal is to help North Korea become an open society.

We both really enjoyed our time meeting other youth leaders in Vienna and we would like to share three lessons we learned from the 2018 Generation Democracy Global Summit.

Share

When IRI proposed that we present a Lightning talk on North Korean human rights during the grassroots organization session, we both were hesitant because both of us have difficulty speaking English and did not have public speaking experience. We were afraid of failure. However, when we finally decided to present we realized that everyone there only wanted to listen more and provide advice, rather than to criticize.

Because of this, we both felt more confident to talk with other participants, share our experiences and to ask about theirs. We learned not to be afraid of speaking up, to believe in ourselves and embrace the opportunity to share our experience.

Learn

Although three days seem too short to fully learn useful skills for leadership and activism, we both learned so much from the sessions at the Summit. Every day, we worked on different subjects pertaining to Youth Leadership: 1) Grassroots leadership in the community 2) Youth leadership at the national level and 3) the future for youth leadership.

What we most enjoyed and found useful was the session on “Appreciative Inquiry (AI) for Positive Decision-Making,” which taught us how to reframe questions to better understand the results and strengths of various initiatives. In every session, we learned new and valuable skills to better design and implement our projects.

Connect

What we really enjoyed from the Summit were the many opportunities to meet and learn from the other youth leaders. During the meetings, we shared and discussed each of our countries’ experience with democracy. These discussions allowed us to learn about the many different experiences of democratization and compare the situation of North Korea with other countries, which can provide some lessons for helping North Korea’s own opening. In addition to meeting with the other youth leaders, we were also able to meet development professionals and government leaders that could help our projects. We spoke to French diplomats, a member of the Austrian Parliament who works on education, and a Ukrainian political party leader.

Whenever we presented YFNKD’s next project, they were eager to share their experiences and to provide advice. As young Korean leaders, meeting these experts and hearing their opinions are a valuable and unique experience that we could not otherwise have. Other young Koreans who are forward-looking and passionate about inter-Korean issues will benefit from attending future summits. Now that the summit is over, we will both work to bring North and South Korean youth together to discuss the solutions to the issues on the Korean Peninsula together.

Thank you,

Nayoung and Myeongro