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Students in Focus

Sights set on the United Nations

Many students can picture themselves in their dream job, but Taehee Kim has set foot in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, knowing he wants to return as a researcher and advocate for North Korean human rights.

Taehee is a third-year student studying a Bachelor of Politics and International Relations at UC. He enrolled in the BGL Internship (Government and Policy) unit and applied for a role in South Korea.

“I was an intern for a non-government organisation in Seoul called PSCORE - People for Successful Corean Reunification. It was a big opportunity for me,” Taehee says.

He began the internship in March 2022, in what was a homecoming of sorts, as Taehee grew up in South Korea and later moved to Cairns, Queensland where he finished high school.

“I wanted to study at UC because Canberra is the nation’s capital, with all the government organisations, and I thought it would be helpful to be around the experts in government policy,” he says.

“I also like the cold weather!”

When Taehee started his internship in Seoul, he hit the ground running as a translator. Being fluent in English and Korean meant translating was one of his key responsibilities as part of the research team at PSCORE.

“We would meet with North Korean defectors, and we would film them telling their stories about how they fled the country, and I would translate for the research team and multimedia team,” he says.

Listening to the stories in Korean and translating the experiences into English made Taehee think more about the levels of awareness about North Korean human rights issues in the wider community.

“My family is from neighbouring South Korea, but it was all so new to me – hearing first-hand about how the defectors were treated in their home country and what it took to escape, whether it be by private boat, swimming, or walking,” he says.

“Many are too afraid to try and get out, for fear of getting caught and being executed.”

Each day was different for Taehee – he was even called on to translate an interview with a North Korean defector for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program.

Taehee would also translate policy research and was credited in a book published by PSCORE about North Korean policy. This achievement led to a trip to the United Nations headquarters in Switzerland.

“My boss asked me whether I would like to go to Geneva with the team to present the book and moderate a side event at the UN’s 52nd session of the Human Rights Council,” he says.

Taehee then took on a project management role to get the team over to Geneva – including PSCORE’s President, Secretary-General, CEO and co-CEO, a Daily NK News journalist and two North Korean defectors.

“It was hard! But it helped me improve my communication and time management skills,” he says.

The internship experience lasted eight months, with Taehee doing his regular uni coursework at the same time.

“My boss understood my situation and even though I was working fulltime hours, I could go into a conference room and catch up on lectures and study,” he says.

The workload has been worth it for Taehee, as he has taken away new skills and connections that stand him in good stead for the future. He had the opportunity to meet with The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, a retired Australian judge, jurist, and academic, and former chairman of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea. He also provided his translation skills to various chapters of a report from PSCORE about internet freedom in North Korea.

Now Taehee is considering pursuing a postgraduate degree and credits his internship for helping him get a clearer picture of what he wants to do: work for the United Nations in North Korean human rights and apply for a master's degree in international relations.

“During my internship, we also interviewed residents on the streets of South Korea, and they assumed that much of the mistreatment of North Koreans was a thing of the past,” Taehee says.

“There is so much more work to do in increasing public awareness around the world about North Korea. It’s always been a very sensitive subject, but it’s an important issue to address.”

Words by Emma Larouche, photos supplied.

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