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Bush Institute Announces Second Class of North Korea Freedom Scholarship

$26,000 awarded to 10 North Korean escapees to pursue higher education

July 27, 2018

Dallas, Texas (July 27, 2018) – Today, the George W. Bush Institute announced 10 new recipients of the North Korea Freedom Scholarship. The annual award was established in 2017 to help North Korean escapees living in the United States build productive, prosperous lives as Americans.

Announced by Mrs. Laura Bush in 2016 and administered by Communities Foundation of Texas, the scholarships, which together total $26,000, will help escapees pursue a range of educational opportunities at post-secondary institutions including traditional four-year universities, community colleges, and graduate schools.  

This year, the Bush Institute will implement a pilot mentorship program for scholarship recipients, pairing recipients with mentors who have expertise in their field of study or can address other needs of the students. The goal is to eventually offer a mentor pairing to all applicants, whether or not they receive funding.

2018 North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipients include: 

  • O.S.H., who is enrolled in a Masters of Divinity program at an Illinois theological seminary.
  • Johnny Han, who is studying political science and accounting at Los Angeles City College. He escaped to China in 2005 to find his mother, who had fled months earlier to earn money for the family. Johnny became a U.S. citizen in 2012 and is “still in awe of this country’s generosity.”
  • Grace Jo, who studies biology at Montgomery College in Maryland while working as a dental assistant and serving as Vice President of NKinUSA, a nonprofit that supports North Korean refugees. She came to the United States with her mother and sister in 2008 and became a citizen in 2013.
  • A.J., who recently completed her associate’s degree and transferred to the University of South Florida as a finance major. Her goal is to become a financial advisor after she graduates from college.
  • C.K., who is studying political science and public policy at a community college.
  • S.J.K., a recent high school graduate who will study X-Ray Tech at a community college in California.
  • S.K., who is a community college student in Maryland.
  • Debby Kim, who is studying biochemistry at Elmhurst College in Illinois and wants to become a doctor.
  • Seongmin Lee, who is a political science major at Columbia University. He fled North Korea with his mother in 2009 and originally settled in South Korea. He deferred his initial acceptance to Columbia due to lack of funds, then crowdfunded one year’s worth of tuition to attend a semester later.
  • H.S., who will soon be a freshman communications major at the University of Southern California.

Many North Korean escapees continue to live in fear, even after becoming permanent residents or citizens of the United States. Leaving North Korea without permission is a crime, and violators and their immediate relatives may face imprisonment or punishment. Thus, some scholarship recipients request that the Bush Institute withhold their identities and whereabouts. 

The scholarship is part of the Bush Institute’s Freedom in North Korea program, which aims to expose the suffering of North Korean people and put their stories on the radar of policy makers and opinion leaders. The work has included call-to-action papers to define a new path forward in improving the human condition in North Korea, as well as original research and opinion polling of North Korean refugees who have resettled in America.

“The refugees we surveyed felt like education was one of the most important factors to their financial well-being, social acclimation, and life satisfaction, yet most must choose between the immediate need to support themselves and the improved long-term prospects education provides,” said Lindsay Lloyd, deputy director of Human Freedom at the Bush Institute. “We’re proud to help these students get the skills they need to climb the next rung of the ladder and pursue their goals.”

Fourteen students applied for grants this year, and 10 were awarded scholarships of various amounts based on merit. A committee reviewed applications and recommend awards. Committee members included:

  • Sheena Greitens – Assistant Professor, University of Missouri; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Jefferson City, Mo. 
  • Dan Ha – Partner, Lagoda Investment Management, L.P.; New York, N.Y. 
  • Jensen Ko – Chief Operating Officer, Archegos Capital; New York, N.Y. 
  • Amanda Schnetzer – Chief Operating Officer, Pointe Bello; Dallas, Texas 
  • Sarah Cotton Nelson – Chief Philanthropy Officer, Communities Foundation of Texas; Dallas, Texas 
  • Michelle Rhyu – Partner, Cooley LLP; Palo Alto, Calif.
  • Anne Wicks – Director, Education Reform and Leadership Programs, Bush Institute; Dallas, Texas 

The application for the 2019 North Korea Freedom Scholarship will open in January. 

For more information about the scholarship and the Bush Institute’s efforts to support escapees and improve the human condition in North Korea, visit Freedom in North Korea. For more information about Communities Foundation of Texas, visit www.cftexas.org