We recently honoured the achievements of four young people who have been supported by RSN to progress in education. One of them is a teenage girl from North Korea. Here we'll call her Hyeon. 

At such a young age, she has already overcome indescribable challenges in her life and through it all her hopes and dreams for the future have remained strong. We have been so impressed by her commitment to her education – she has worked incredibly hard this year to achieve top grades in her GCSEs, all whilst learning English for the first time and adjusting to an entirely new country and culture. We don’t know many other young people who wake up at 5am to start studying before school!

She is an inspiring young woman and it was our pleasure to give her an award for academic achievement. We believe in her future and all that we know that she will achieve.

Here's her story in her own words:

I come from North Korea. I travelled here alone, without any family members.

I have been here for one year four months but my English is still not good.

North Korea has many problems. There is no freedom of speech and liberty. Many people are starving everyday and we have to do what the government tells us. If people do not obey there is danger for them - even prison camp or public executions.

I think every North Koreans has seen this happen to someone. We have to witness the scene even though we don't want see. People can't speak out against the authorities. Before coming to the UK, I had never heard the word "human rights" in my life.

I can't explain everything about North Korea because of my English, but I just want say to one sentence. It is a different world and we are not human in North Korea. When I arrived in the UK, I was shocked by everything: the culture, different people, language and buildings. I had never seen or heard about the world and who else is living on this earth. Everything was confusing and sometimes it was hard for me to understand everything. I still get confused sometimes.

I met Hannah from RSN last year. RSN helped me to get into my school and they are supporting me every time.

Hannah also found a mentor for me. The mentor's name is Anna. She helps me with my English every week.

I still meet with Hannah from RSN and she listens to me when I am worried and supports me. Also, she gives me advice about my education. Last year, I went on a trip to Oxford University – this was great for me.

For now, I am studying hard so that I can go to university and become a doctor.

Photo of Hyeon and mentoring programme manager, Katie, by Neil Baker. 

"Children my age died in front of me". 

Hyeon's story was told in more detail in a recent interview by the London Community Foundation.

Read more about Hyeon here

Hyeon's work experience in a hospital

Hyeon wants to become a doctor and at our fundraising dinner she spoke about some of her experiences and her hopes for the future.  Unbeknownst to her one of the guests was a hospital consultant and he was so moved by her story that he offered her a work experience place this summer. To accompany her through the process, he generously took a week of annual leave as part of this offer. This is her account of her time:

I did work experience for five days in Conquest Hospital in Hastings because I want to be a doctor. On the first day, to be honest, I was a quite nervous because I didn't know anything about hospitals or how they work but I was also really excited that I had a chance to have this great experience.

I woke up every day at 5am and left home at 5:30am because the place is far away from Croydon, where I live with my foster family. The journey was a quite boring but I did many things on the train such as writing about what had happened every day.

On the first day I arrived in Hastings at around 8:35 and then I texted Dr Edward who offered to me this work experience. He came to the reception and picked me up from reception but I couldn't recognise him from the fundraising dinner because he was wearing glasses. I felt very bad about that. He is such a kind man and a great person. I just want to say "thank you for everything".

Anyway, I followed Dr Edward to the acute medicine unit and I met some amazing people. They were all so nice to me.  They really made me laugh by joking that they wanted to go to North Korea and be doctors there.

I shadowed Dr Edward for three days and met many patients with various diseases such as chest pain, heart disease and chronic pain. I wrote down everything about their symptoms in my note book and asked Dr Edward about how to treat each disease and he always explained the details to me.  He also showed me images of their X-Ray, CT and MRI scans and we would compare how different they were. I’m also really grateful to the patients that would allow me to be there and to watch what was happening.  Sometimes I could tell that they were in a great deal of pain and I felt really sorry for them, but I can’t tell you all about their cases because I have to respect their privacy.

I learned that we can know so many things about a person, such as how their kidney, liver or pancreas is functioning, through a blood test.  And that we all have different body structure and that some people will have their kidney removed and put into another person as we can still survive with one kidney.  Mainly I learnt that human bodies are so strange but such incredible creations. I also learned how medication works on human bodies and what to do when a person reacts badly to the medicine they have been given.

On Thursday I went to the radiology unit and I saw them do an X-Ray, CT and MRI scan and the doctors explained how they work and how different they are.  The difference is that X-rays and CT scans can be done quickly and you can see most of thing but if you want to see things really clearly you need to do an MRI scan as well as they are the most sensitive but they take much longer to do.  I didn’t realise before that doctors use these images to diagnose diseases. 

Before I did this work experience I always imagined that there was one type of doctor who treats patients.  But now I know that there are lots of different types of doctors, some of them spend more time diagnosing the illness and others do more research.  I don’t know if you knew that?  The other thing I realised is that doctors don’t always know what’s wrong with people but then they have to try and work it out together.  I really liked the way that everybody works together as a team.  In North Korea this would not happen – everyone would be very conscious of what level they were at so doctors wouldn’t joke with nurses or with patients.  But I saw that it is very important for everybody to work together and also that it is good if doctors talk to the patients and make them feel relaxed and happy.

On the last day I was so tired that I slept on the train until I arrived at Hastings, but it was also a very exciting day for me because I was going to watch them do some operations.  The process before the operation was really complicated because they had to make sure that everything was completely hygienic and safe for the patient before they started.  I was very surprised at how sterile everything was.

I saw them do surgery on three male patients; one of them was only 17 – the same age as me. I saw them cut open the body and remove something but I couldn't really understand why they had taken that bit out. I was really scared but I tried to get closer to see more but I wasn’t allowed because it would have affected the hygiene.

All in all it was such a great experiences and helped me understand a lot of things about medicine and gave me even more motivation to become a doctor. When I’d finished my weeks work experience my foster carer asked me "Do you still want to be a doctor?" and I said definitely, "Yes".  Really I can’t even describe how exactly the whole week made me feel but all I can say is that it was a fabulous experience.

Hyeon got her GCSE results this summer and they are good enough for her to go on to do A-levels and bring her one step closer to her dream of becoming a doctor.

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