Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mixed, inner feelings of young North Korean Defectors

[With young North Koran defectors in Seoul], one minute they would be joking, laughing, roughhousing, and the next they would reveal something startling about themselves -- they ate only roots for a year, they were badly beaten -- something they didn't regard as out of the ordinary but that resembled nothing in the lives of most South Koreans.

Sometimes it was hard to understand their conception of time, as it was hard for them to understand the South Korean fixation with schedules. There were days when they attended classes at their schools, and there were days when they just decided not to. A number had been out of school for so long that they were in classes with South Korean students five or six years younger.

Because the North Korean dialect varies just enough from the South Korean -- and because most of the fluttering swallows speak a colorful patois of Chinese and North Korean with a few saucy words of English -- [it was often necessary for someone to translate] Seoulite Korean to a version they understood.

While they had South Korean acquaintances, none said they had any real South Korean friends.

When I playfully asked them one day when they planned to marry, they immediately moved away from each other, and Se-ok, who was wearing a shirt with the English phrase ''Change From Usual'' on it, said that in North Korea men weren't permitted to date until they were 18, which was usually when they went into the military, often for 12 years. And then it was only when they got out that a matchmaker found them a wife, usually in her mid-20's.

[Excerpt of an interview by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]


Shane said...

I can only imagine the depth of culture shock that they are going through. I hope that there are systems in place in the South to be sensitive to these issues and places they can go to get help.

Grant Montgomery said...

The Unification Ministry of South Korea set up their Hanawon center to help North Korean defectors make the daunting leap from their Stalinist homeland to life in what has become Asia's third biggest economy.

For those who do make it -- normally after a hazardous border crossing into China -- the center is their first home in the South and where they are taught basic skills to help them adapt.

Some say Hanawon is doing a great job, others have criticisms. One thing is certain, with the increased flow of North Korean refugees, the Seoul facilities are limited.

See articles on the subject:

"North Korean Defectors adjust to life in South"

"Crash Course for North Korean Defectors"

"Hanawon facility too small"

"Unification of Koreas compared to Germany"