A woman who defected from North Korea and is now based in Manchester is working with a start-up organisation employing refugees to teach languages.

48-year-old Jihyun Park, who fled from the so-called Hermit Kingdom as a teenager, is now employed by UK-based Chatterbox, whose mission is “to highlight the significant, untapped talent that resides in the refugee community.”

They seek to do that by offering conversational language tuition services to individuals and organisations.

Jihyun, who offers her services as a native Korean speaker, explained how being a Chatterbox tutor works:

“Chatterbox was made by a person who was a refugee and they evolved through by hiring refugees. We teach any people – anyone who wants to learn languages.

“The people that I visit are students. Last time I taught a university student who was studying the Korean language and there are also people learning Korean culture and they are interested in speaking Korean, so we are able to have conversations in Korean.”

The teaching is in addition to Jihyun’s work as a human rights activist, which she took up after being a victim of human trafficking as detailed in a stark video by Amnesty International UK titled ‘North Korea: The Other Interview.’

The flexibility of the role, in which video conferencing software is utilised, was one of the things that attracted her to it.

“In this job we have online conversations, so I don’t have to go down to London. It can be anywhere, at home, in a café – everywhere – because we have got Wi-Fi so we can have conversation on that,” said Jihyun.

“At the moment it is a part-time job, but it has also improved my language skills as I have learned English from them. They speak English, I speak Korean, but sometimes we have conversations in both. So it has improved my English skills and that’s one things that’s good for me.

“I am continuing with my North Korean rights work. In March, for example, I am very busy as every day is different.”

Chatterbox was set up in January this year by Mursal Hedayat, who came to England with her parents as a refugee from Afghanistan.

One of the common misconceptions of the Chatterbox scheme is that it is for refugees – a notion that Mursal says isn’t true at all:

“Most people are quite used to refugees being helped and, very often, they don’t think of refugees as being capable of helping other people.

“Actually, the tutors help Brits, students, individuals who are learning their languages, and they get to use their own talents for languages and also their expensive educational backgrounds when it comes to Chatterbox tutors.”

Chatterbox founder Mursal Hedayat speaks to an Arabic language instructor. Image credit: Chatterbox
Chatterbox founder Mursal Hedayat speaks to an Arabic language instructor. Image credit: Chatterbox

Chatterbox currently offer conversation practice comprising of verbal and listening skills, but will be launching a full catalogue of tuition for everyone from beginners to advanced students.

They also have a successful partnership with The School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and hope to form similar relationships.

“One thing we are absolutely looking for is other universities to use our service. We had a pilot with SOAS that started in January and in three months we delivered 400 hours of conversation practice for their language students,” Mursal explained.

“They’ve been so impressed with the pilot that they’ve asked us to come back for the third term of the semester, and they’re also looking at other funding to make sure that we stay as a permanent fixture in their language teaching.

“In Manchester, we would definitely look for similar partnerships with Manchester Universities.”


Featured image credit: Jihyun Park

By: Tom Woods

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