United Nations

Design for Peace Contest

Strategy Lead

Team of 6 collaborators

Sep 2015 - Feb 2016

Designing a classroom experience with 

North Korean refugee youth


1st place in the United Nations Peace Contest

Won an additional grant of 10K for R&D of design idea


I led a group of six in designing a solution for UN-Habitat. Our mission was to propose and design peace. Right when the word ‘peace’ came out all I could think about was the tension between the two Koreas. What my team and I wanted to focus on was the North Korean refugee crisis. Koreans from the North, especially the youth, were having a hard time adjusting to the new culture.



The problem

The biggest challenge was the language. After the division between the two Koreas, the North took on a different pronunciation so the language over time changed drastically. Learning is hard enough for them because of the culture shock and adjustment to their new homes but after conducting extensive research we found out the main reason they were having a hard time learning was that many of them were afraid and some, ashamed of being found out they were from the north. This feeling of shame made it harder for them to learn, adjust, and achieve.


*There are many dialects in Korea. However, most people use Seoul-dialect because it is considered to be the most urban and popular, making other dialects die or become taboo when it is used in workplaces, schools, and public settings. Because the North Korean dialect is so strong, people usually know right away where he or she is from. This taboo of the Seoul-dialect being considered pervasive and ‘cool’ makes it harder for North Koreans to open up, making them feel like they are not culturally appropriate.



Design Concepts

What are some ways people can speak without talking?

How can we make them feel as if they are no different?



The outcome

An educational experience where five South and five North Korean refugee teens from Seoul came together for the first time to envision and prototype the first day of school in a classroom of a united Korea. Because there were language barriers to consider, we talked through images, photography became the main language for both parties. By talking with photos taken by each participating child, the stories shared were not only easier to understand but also profoundly deep. The concepts to which the photos were to be taken were of daily subjects. For instance, we asked the ten participants to take a picture of love. Everyone had the same subject but the images and stories were so different and unique, making it easier for stories to be shared and human connection to thrive.


At the very end we designed an exhibition to share the pictures, stories, and lessons we've learned during our journey with the North and South Korean students. Parents, teachers, and designers from all of Seoul came to see and get a glimpse of our efforts in designing what peace meant to us and hopefully for the future of Korea.