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Images of North Korea circulating on the web give a glimpse of the hardships commoners face there; a few succeed to flee to the developed South seeking a better life. Curious to know how escapees adapt to new life in South Korea I came across a youtube video, where the two interviewed mention Hanawon (하나원 means House of Unity in Korean). Reading some articles, I was ambivalent about this settlement support centre, which by 2009 had trained nearly 90% of the 16,000 defectors in South Korea (Glionna, 2009). This blog post thus is dedicated to what I have unearthed wondering how Hanawon copes with “easing the socioeconomic and psychological anxiety of North Korean defectors; overcoming the barriers of cultural heterogeneity; and offering practical training for earning a livelihood in the South” (Demick, 2010, p. 249). 

Judging from defectors’ feedback online, the three-month training at Hanawon tries to help them deal with socioeconomic and psychological anxiety. The new citizens receive special treatment including cheap accommodation, settlement funds of ₩20 million ($18670) and ₩320,000 ($300) as a monthly allowance for five years (Song, 2004). Such support serves as an airbag to escapees when adjusting to a new society. Financial aid is all the more necessary given that in 2008 75% of almost 600 residents at the centre suffered from depression or other mental problems, which is likely to take a toll on their earning capacity (Glionna, 2009). While the struggling certainly receive counselling to relieve psychological anxiety, the centre’s exterior appears disturbing. The school buildings in a secluded area patrolled by dozens of guards remind me of a prison than a good educational institution. On top of that, intelligence agents grill residents in an attempt to weed out spies (Glionna, 2009). I can imagine all the stress they go through. Are the new South Koreans able to start a new life with the way Hanawon reeducates them?


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The answer lies in the measures taken to help defectors adapt to the very different culture of South Korea. Within the three-month crash course residents also develop basic skills to survive in the capitalist society: they learn to use buses, ATMs and computers and they learn the standard (Seoul) Korean language (Glionna, 2009). The knowledge absorbed at Hanawon is crucial to get by considering the contrast in modernity between the North and the South. Yet it does not suffice to make the new South Koreans feel welcome and equal. Many of them have complained how harsh of a world to live in the society turned out to be. The locals are extremely individualistic. It is a characteristic so foreign to the Northern counterparts, those indoctrinated with socialistic values. It further widens the gap and adds to the discrimination the defectors face. They already get labelled as traitors and spies (Onishi, 2006). Of course, many would say it is not the duty of Hanawon to spoon-feed the newcomers, but I think the latter at least deserve to get a taste of reality before entering the society (Kang, 2015). They deserve not only to hear about a few success stories of North Koreans, but also to know of the walls the majority of North Koreans face.

Having success in the capitalist society is important. But far more important is not being a failure. I hope that Hanawon provides more realistic and practical education and training for newly arrived North Koreans.

Kang, 2015

One of those walls is the matter of employment. Few companies hire North Koreans (Onishi, 2006). Many defectors despite being just as skilled as the locals resort to part-time jobs and low-tier professions. How is Hanawon supposed to tackle it?! Well, I think they should be honest with the residents and tell them what is to be anticipated. More practical skills related to job-hunting would be appreciated. At this moment, you might realize the scale of the problem is appalling; the society as a whole mainly rejects the defectors and it is high time for it to change or to at least be more tolerant. Still, Hanawon is partly to blame since it lets the “students” set unrealistic expectations. The students think of South Korea as of a paradise after the hell they fleed from. 

In short, I inadvertently think of how similar Hanawon is to the schools we attend. We are often taught only about the successful cases, not failures. Being honest would help a lot. Hopefully, Hanawon is taking notes and developing its format of procedures to better re-educate the new South Koreans. North Koreans deserve all the best as they start a new chapter in their lives. 




I could not quite relate to TED videos on youtube. This time I was looking at things from the perspective of a speaker; both the stage and the people felt odd, at least at first.

Oh, I talked at the 2018 KazTEA PST Conference about Translanguaging in Pedagogy, a topic my groupmates know I am so keen on.


The STAGE and I

I should mention that one of the venues of the event was at Miras University, a private university in Shymkent. The stage they provided was a tad bit different from those you would see in TED talks. It did not fully meet the expectations of the speakers (including me): it was poorly equipped, it was dark and it was literally near the main entrance. You could imagine some people were entering or leaving the hall as I tried to concentrate on the audience. At first, it was disturbing, but a few minutes into my speech the bypassers and all the extra sounds stopped bothering me. I imagine it was partly due to how absorbed I was into the topic. Maybe, on top of that, it is also because I have learnt to focus on my task even in rooms full of people and noise (Shoutout to my ex-roommates!).


The PEOPLE and I

Although I was afraid the listeners would also be distracted, they were surprisingly glued to my slides and me. Perhaps, the exaggerated intonation and non-verbal cues aided me in drawing their attention. Some still must have felt exhausted after the first day of the conference. It was past 5 pm. A handful of attendees leaned back on cosy sofas and seemed motionless. To try and awaken them, I started walking back and forth asking some questions and projecting my voice in their direction. Understanding that the longer the speech is, the less the audience is interested, I decided to touch upon the essence of the topic only. The decision was also based on the contingent of participants: students and school teachers comprised the majority. I guessed not many of them were familiar with research on multilingualism. Earlier the same day, observing the peers I went to seminars and demonstrations with, I made some changes to my PowerPoint presentation and notes. Owing to that, when I used simple language and relatable examples in my speech, the expressions on the faces spoke volumes. Most nodded in agreement and smiled as their everyday practices were addressed. At that point, I realized how crucial it is to put yourself in the shoes of the crowd to perform better.

Through this experience, I shared knowledge and I learned. I learned to command the stage. I learned to orchestrate seemingly minute details to deliver a speech. A speech that resonates with the spectators. Now, reflecting on the TEDx talk I recall the “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome” meme, which accurately describes what I attempted to do. I advise you to be ready to do so, too.



Alan Siegel: Let’s simplify legal jargon! (deconstruction)

Limited legal jargon comprehension is an obstacle on the way to protect one’s rights or receive benefits. Alan Siegel, a branding and business communication expert presenting at TED, argues for simplification—using plain English and making voluminous documents more succinct—of the language in paperwork. Although in doing so he provides relatable evidence and poses crucial questions, certain answers appear one-sided.

Intelligibility of the language, be it English, Russian or Kazakh, facilitates individuals in dealing with documentation. Multi-paged agreements, which pop up before proceeding to use a service, are a thing consumers prevalently ignore, hastily scroll through and check off. In the words of Siegel, shift to plain English will ameliorate the otherwise unnecessarily complex legal language. The positive feedbacks on the use of a simple calendar for responsibilities by IBM proves the effectiveness of doing so. Simplicity of the documentation language reduces the risks people expose themselves to, thereby cutting expenses on hiring a lawyer that would “translate” documents and mediate in working with them. It would also add to their understanding of steps to be taken in contact with the company as an employee, as a user of products or a natural person.

Siegel attempts to show his genuine concern about how “we”, the way he repetitively addresses the audience, interact with legal documentation. However, he ceases to show consideration toward other aspects of language other than its comprehensiveness. Simplification of language inevitably leads to reduced need in jargon, a means of decreasing verbosity and communicating ideas precisely; hence, in a chain reaction, it potentially makes such vocabulary atrophic and increases wordiness. Perhaps, finding an alternative way of amplifying comprehension might have been suggested by Siegel, one of which is enclosing an additional page of glossary to documents shortly explaining terms.

Along with the promotion of plain English, the speaker emphasizes concision as a prerequisite for paperwork. Siegel cites Obama’s words (“I don’t see why we can’t have a one-page, plain English consumer credit agreement.”) and mentions he sought assistance from two highly-qualified consumer credit lawyers to approve his work on content simplification condensation. Again, as he implies he is focused mainly on the ability of people to grasp the content presented in few pages, there is no mention of the hidden danger in shrinking papers. Explicit coverage of all points seems of key salience since both parties—service provider and service consumer—may subsequently have reasons to open a legal dispute, where each word in the document matters. By squeezing every item into limited space, each side’s vulnerability to risk rises tenfold. Not only does this strategy cause omission of substantial details, but also fails to reach the initial goal of making documents more accessible now that the amount of items per fragment goes up. The presenter possibly should include drawbacks of redesigning documentation in such a way, too, to allow the audience to evaluate the status quo and draw an inference independently.

In conclusion, clear language use and succinctness in documentation promoted by the speaker should be valorised without diminishing language and detailedness. Siegel’s somewhat flawed standpoint still resonates with many since he addresses a problem an individual stumbles upon regularly. Hypothetically, if moderately simplified in terms of language sophistication and size, legal papers might be sufficiently clear, transparent and simple.

What would you do to make paperwork more accessible?


My only genius talent is inquisitiveness

Albert Einstein

Curiosity killed the cat, but it will not kill those who seek knowledge (Dillon, 1988). Being naturally curious in and out of class, I have always wondered why my peers do not like asking questions and, gradually, grew to blame myself when I do. To grasp why students at some point are no longer inquisitive, the meaning of that quality should be unwrapped first. 

Curiosity opens doors

Student questioning helps the inquirer and the rest of the students explore the matter, and the teacher evaluate the current level of the class. While there are basic information questions inherent to superficial learning, the second type, wonderment questions, is rather related to higher cognitive processes such as comprehension, prediction and planning (Chin, 2002). In other words, posing wonderment questions induces higher-order thinking, which facilitates students in filling the knowledge gaps. Regardless of the question category, not only does inquisitiveness of one learner allow the more hesitant ones to find the missing puzzles, but also might help the latter start asking questions themselves. For instance, if Alima asks the professor why further specifications should be made in research participant sampling criteria, the other students will also hear more justifications and possibly ask follow-up questions. Observation of student cognition expressed by means of inquiries, in turn, makes it more clear for the teacher both where the students are at on their learning curve and what areas of the subject need more elaboration. As illustrated, each of the three parties benefits from asking questions and thus lack of student inquisitiveness is not to be overlooked.

The wall between student and inquisitiveness

Top ten lists of why students do not ask questions would likely say they do not find the topic interesting, they are afraid of asking dumb questions, or that they do not see the need of engaging in enquiry (Watts & de Jesus, 2005). Low achievers often resist being involved in classwork; hence they are interested neither in the topic nor asking questions. Meanwhile, in graduate school, where student academic performance tends to be comparatively higher, fear of tarnishing one’s image by asking a frankly unintelligent question is a more realistic explanation to the low rate of student questioning. Assuming students learn to ask questions after training and witnessing others’ inquisitiveness, they might embrace questioning as an integral part of studying. However, there is a chance that the experience of successively receiving ungratifying answers to questions or no answers at all lowers student motivation to ask. In case instead of getting a detailed response on how to complete a certain task, you are redirected to your textbook, or after sending several questions to your professor or adding them to the question bank as part of your assignment, those are not answered at all, even the most curious student is expected to become less inquisitive. To access greater knowledge, students need to overcome the wall that has built up between them and inquiring, definitely, with the assistance of their instructors.

Student questioning proves to be a meaningful tool in learning. To find the remedy for those hesitant to ask, first, there is a need to know the clear diagnosis of the “disease”, and little interest in the topic, fear of not meeting expectations and not seeing the purpose of asking questions are a few of the so-called pathogens. How do you think, what are the ways of eliminating those pathogens to increase student inquisitiveness? 



Chin, C. (2002). Student-generated questions: Encouraging inquisitive minds in learning. Teaching and Learning, 23(1), 59-67.

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Dillon, J. T. (1988). The remedial status of student questioning. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 20(3), 197-210.

Watts, M. & de Jesus, H. P. (2005). The cause and affect of asking questions: Reflective case studies from undergraduate sciences. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 5(4), 437-452, DOI: 10.1080/14926150509556674

Research for Beginners: Handling Participant Vulnerability

A professor would iterate that we do research to bring change by raising the voices of the unheard. Though a valid motive, it does not prevent a novice researcher from contemplating the worth of recruiting vulnerable subjects given the ethical considerations. In case there is a strong commitment to cover a topic with less protected participants, I believe one needs sufficient justification and preparation.

First and foremost, ask yourself if the benefit research subjects gain outweighs the imposed threat (Weisser-Lohmann, 2012). Ethical guidelines and requirements from supervisors possibly tie your hands either explicitly or implicitly. Yet vulnerable groups deserve accessing the advantages of research as well as shedding light on their issues (Bracken-Roche, Bell, Macdonald & Racine, 2017). Having someone armed with science and authority willing to tell your story is a substantial incentive itself. Participants whose voices were heard would also not only give courage to their peers but also set an example for the latter to follow and make more valuable contributions to research. Provided the scholar is set to benefit the individuals under the scope, it is best not to exclude them from research solely based on their vulnerability.


I am not convinced motivation to partake in data collection diminishes the harm participants may suffer unless the investigator is prepared to explore the matter ethically. Conducting procedures conscientiously necessitates “beneficence of treatment of participants, respect for participants, and justice” (Creswell, 2014, p. 36). Emerging researchers such as us would especially need to abide by the mentioned basic principles. Treating every step of our study with care and emotional investment should become a habit nurtured from the very first projects we conduct since that seems to correlate to securing study partakers from imaginable perils.

Working with the vulnerable population to fulfil one’s duty as a researcher requires additional mindfulness in terms of ethics and preparation. It is key to make sure participants will gain more than what they may lose. More than that, preparedness to proceed ethically throughout the study is a primary consideration.

What is your idea of working with vulnerable people? Would you recommend anything else to those willing to engage in such projects?



Bracken-Roche, D., Bell, E., Macdonald, M. E., & Racine, E. (2017). The concept of ‘vulnerability’ in research ethics: an in-depth analysis of policies and guidelines. Health Research Policy and Systems, 15(8), 1-18.

Creswell, J. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research: International edition (4th ed.), Ch. 1. Electronic Package. Boston: Pearson.

Weisser-Lohmann, E. (2012). Ethical aspects of vulnerability in research. Poiesis Prax, 9, 157–162.