Hanna Cho


“Your efforts might not all pay off, but there is at least one person somewhere appreciating your hard work!”

Fourth year Criminology and Criminal Justice major Hanna Cho started sponsoring a girl from Tanzania when she first entered college, and has developed a keen interest in human rights since then. She currently interns at a human rights organisation, PSCORE, which fights for the rights of North Koreans. Hanna shares her journey with us.  

A normal day at PSCORE: Hanna Cho at work

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, how you came to work at PSCORE and your current position at PSCORE?

I’m in my fourth year studying Criminology and Criminal Justice as a major and International Development and Conflict Management as a minor at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I’m currently an intern at PSCORE.

I was completely ignorant of human rights issues until I was a junior in high school when I attended a fundraising event hosted by Compassion at a church in Baltimore, MD. At the event, I watched a video in which a group of children were thanking in the language of their sponsors. Something struck me really hard and I lingered around the donations box afterwards. However, I waited until I got my first job in college to start sponsoring this girl from Tanzania who is now a part of my family. From then onwards, I began to have a strong interest in human rights issues.

Apart from this, I have also participated in a couple of international volunteer service programs in Mongolia and Mexico.

Because I’m on a gap semester for fall, I wanted to take advantage of it and started browsing for opportunities in South Korea on the net. I came across PSCORE and figured this would be a very unique experience which I can probably only get in Korea. I knew there is a lot for me to learn so I applied, and now, I’m here working at PSCORE.

Can you elaborate more about what it's like working at PSCORE and how a typical day (if any) would be like for you?

We are an organization working for the human rights of North Koreans and for the North Korean defectors living in South Korea; we try to support their education as much as possible. We believe that calling for a greater interest and participation of the international society in the matter of human rights in North Korea is extremely important, and we also visit the UN headquarters (preferably annually) to take part in drafting reports to reflect the very true reality of the conditions in North Korea.

I’m an Education Team intern and together with the other interns, manage our main two programs within the department which includes 1:1 tutoring and Wednesday English Class programs. I conduct interviews/orientation for both new teachers and students and call people to match them for the 1:1 tutoring program. I do other administrative tasks, like revise English textbooks and help other teams if they need me. It’s been very busy with numerous projects.

What are some of the projects that you have undertaken/are currently involved in?

Currently, my colleagues and I have been interviewing students and teachers who have been with us for a long time to gather their stories for publishing purposes. Also, we have a couple of weeks scheduled for human rights campaigns at various sites for this month. Anybody who’s available is welcome to stop by – please come and support us!  

What is your most memorable experience working at PSCORE which has impacted you deeply, and has anything changed since you've started working at PSCORE?

Interacting with the defectors from North Korea has really changed my perspective on them. They risked their lives for another chance and after a life threatening journey, have finally landed below the peninsula and are trying as hard as they can to live life for themselves. I have had a chance to talk to them and all of them are working hard to pursue their own individual dreams while at the same time also trying to get accepted by the new community.  

What do you feel are the misconceptions people have about PSCORE/NGOs in particular?

It’s been changing, but still many people think that NGOs just spend the donation money for their own benefits. I guess it isn’t wrong in a way since we need to have some budget to pay for the office facilitation fees, if this could be interpreted as a benefit. However, we are trying to ask for more donations from citizens so we can obtain independence from other institutions such as the government.

What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

Not every day is a happy day. But if you fight through struggles, you learn to appreciate even little things and those little things could turn into your sources of happiness. I see students (North Korean defectors) actively learning at the Wednesday English Class and this makes me smile. Of course because I’m human and when someone acknowledges my work, this pushes me to do better i.e. someone just delivering a thank you message, or an acknowledgement of having good tutoring teams.   

What is your dream or goal that you hope to achieve while working at PSCORE?

I have been around NGOs a lot, but I have never been in it before this. I hope to learn a lot about their characteristics. I’m still a college student but I know which field I want to pursue, which is international development, but I haven’t gotten to specific jobs yet. I hope this experience will narrow the list for me, even if it doesn’t I wouldn’t be too disappointed – I want to meet many awesome people!

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to want in this sector?

I started interning this summer so it hasn’t been too long for me to be in the position to give advice. One thing I could say would be – I’m still working on it too – but if you can’t devote your heart to your work community and don’t possess a passion to embrace people of all various backgrounds, it could be a very difficult field for you. Your efforts might not all pay off, but there is at least one person somewhere appreciating your hard work! And for that, I respect you!

Interview by U Jin. Images courtesy of Hannah Cho and PSCORE.

Hanna (extreme left) with her fellow interns and colleagues at PSCORE

North Korean defectors out at a baseball game with PSCORE. Their faces are blurred for security reasons

The PSCORE team with the North Korean defectors whom they've managed to help

A human rights photo exhibition arranged by PSCORE in Seoul

Created by Gilad Cohen for PSCORE (People For Successfull COrean REunification)

Learn more about PSCORE

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People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE) is a non-religious and non-partisan NGO based in Seoul, South Korea. PSCORE was founded in 2006 by Kim Young-Il, a former North Korean soldier who escaped the country with his family.