Andrew Hong ’04: Changing Lives for North Korean Refugees

Myrhia Brewer, Director of Alumni Engagement and Development

While studying abroad in France during a semester in college, one night Andrew had a vivid dream with a spiritual calling that would ultimately have a profound impact on him. The following morning, Andrew and a group of his classmates from The University of Chicago visited The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. While touring the site, Andrew “saw people my age—in their early 20s—who literally gave up their lives for other people, and that’s when I realized I needed to do something to help others.”

Where It All Began
Born and raised in South Korea, Andrew entered Fessenden as a sixth grade boarding student in 2000. His fondest memories are on the soccer field. He recalls that in his three years on the team, they only lost once. Other memories include ski trips to Vermont, where Andrew learned to snowboard, and weekend trips to Cabot’s Ice Cream & Restaurant. “That’s when I learned the word ‘bucks’ for ‘dollars’—and about the root beer float,” Andrew remembers. “I had never seen ice cream in soda before that. Why would you drink this stuff?” he laughs. His favorite dish from the Sanderson Dining Hall was the pecan pie. He reflects, “I had never tasted something like that before, and it was so good.”

After Fessenden, Andrew attended Phillips Exeter Academy and then The University of Chicago. Once he returned from his semester abroad in France, Andrew shared his experience with some close friends. Their encouragement—paired with a spiritual calling—propelled Andrew forward to follow his dream.

Inspired to Be of Service
In 2011, Andrew founded Emancipate North Koreans (ENoK), a Chicago-based nonprofit aimed at empowering North Korean refugees in the United States through education. Unlike nonprofits that help to bring refugees into safer countries, ENoK helps North Korean refugees who are already in the United States.

Established in 2014, Empower House is an apartment that provides housing to those enrolled in the program. Refugees live in the apartment—along with an ENoK staff member—where they learn English to study for their GEDs (General Equivalency Diploma) or technical certificates, receive guidance as they move through the Green Card process, and have access to over 40 volunteers in the area. Knowledge of ENoK has spread in recent years, and Empower House is currently at capacity. Since 2014, several North Korean refugees have participated in the program, and many are now enrolled in college.

Because Andrew knows what it is like to come to the United States for the first time, he understands the program members and their backgrounds. Using his experience as a boarding student, Andrew built the framework for how the ENoK apartment would be organized—complete with individualized schedules, chores, and weekend activities—and a live-in ENoK staff member serves as a “dorm parent” figure. He remarks, “I really believe in what I learned through my own experience at Fessenden.”

Drawing from another piece of his time at the School, Andrew has started an ENoK tradition—an annual group trip. They have traveled to Niagara Falls, Yellowstone National Park, and, in the first year, they attended one of the first participants’ college graduation ceremonies.

Growing for the Future
Now at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University studying for his Master in Public Policy, Andrew is working to further develop his skills to expand ENoK’s impact. He points out, “I am passionate. I put in my hours. But, now I’m learning to be more strategic, and I’m also learning that leadership is about collaborating with a team.”

During his time in graduate school, Andrew has been able to reflect on what finally clicked and caused him to establish this organization. “At one point, I realized I would always have excuses—college, grad school, marriage, children, career,” Andrew says, “and then I’d be in my 60s, and the number of people I would not have helped, but could have helped, would be numerous.”

Andrew shares, “I realized that although I believe in a life of service and sharing with other people, before ENoK I had been living in a way that was so different than that and not true to myself.” Inspired by his dream while studying abroad, Andrew has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others. With his spiritual background as the basis for his work—coupled with his education, passion, and commitment—only time will tell how many people Andrew will be able to help.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 issue of Red & Gray Magazine. View the full issue here.

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