Shin Ji Kang is an assistant professor in the department of Early, Elementary, and Reading Education. Her scholarly interest involves refugee education and teacher development.
My ethnic and cultural ties to Korea have often brought my personal, spiritual, and scholarly attention toward reunification of North and South Koreas. I was raised and taught in South Korea to hate communists without really learning what communism is, how it operates the society, why North and South Koreas had chosen different ideologies, etc. Images of North Korean people captive in my mind were unhuman communists armed with guns and bombs.
Support from the College of Education,Dept. of Early Elementary, and Reading Education, and JMU Research and Scholarship Office made it possible to reconstruct my understandings of North Korean people and to pursue scholarly endeavor in 2013 and again in 2014. Two JMU students–Sa Ra Kim and Ji Won Kim– and I spent 6 weeks at an alternative school serving North Korean refugee youths, Yeomyung School, by teaching, researching, and service during the first visit. In the following year, I came back to Yeomyung with Dr. Hyung Sook Yeom, professor of the department of social work at JMU.
For all of us from JMU, it was actually the first time to meet and interact with young people defecting from North Korea. The first hand interactions with North Korean refugee students and their South Korean teachers enabled me to launch new refugee education projects or be involved in the existing ones. Photo-voice project,critical media literacy afterschool program, North Korean refugee students’ lived stories in visual art, media education camp, teacher professional development workshops, and global understanding through interdisciplinary education project(GUIDE: Co-learning through coffee) are examples that are multifaceted or multidisciplinary in nature.
Participation to the Media Education Camp: I Can Do It! allowed special opportunities during my second visit. This three day long camp over the weekend at a beautiful vacation home was developed and to offer workshops on film making techniques, interview skills, and film editing. Every participant including Yeomyung students, non-Yeomyung youths interested in filming, and staff members took part in certain roles as film directors, cameramen, actors/actress, editors, or monitors. Leaving a crowded city and busy class schedule behind, participants were soaked in a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere over that weekend while hiking, cooking, playing team building games between workshops. These three days made all of us bonded tightly while making Yeomyung students’ stories as documentary that are full of tears and laughter. I felt that the processes of planning, telling, filming, and editing stories together really deconstructed prejudice, cultivated community spirit, and brought healings to the wounded hearts. Yeomyung students shared they became more confident in who they are when telling their stories to others and reflect upon themselves in a creative way. Participant feedback still lingers in my mind and makes me dreaming of a learning community just like this that brings joy, healing, and meaning to everybody:
“At school, teachers did everything for us. Through the media camp, I learned that I can do it by myself!”
“Because we were expected to make our own film, I had to do it and I could do it really hard with great sense of responsibility.”
“For this time, I was the main character of my study. I liked learning by doing, not by sitting still.”
“I felt no competition. I enjoyed expressing myself while learning.”