Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Lonely Life of a North Korean in the South

After arriving in South Korea, Chol, a defector from North Korea, completed her indoctrination and moved into a new, government-provided, one-bedroom apartment in Seoul. She was 24, with no relatives or friends in the South.

"When I walked into my apartment, I smelled the freshness of a new carpet, and somehow I felt so utterly alone," said Chol, who asked that her full name not be used to protect her family in North Korea. "I spent a lot of time alone in that apartment, drinking too much and thinking to myself, 'How can I make it?' "

She struggled to speak Korean as it is spoken in the South, with a slang that is infused with hundreds of words borrowed from American English. "Language was a real problem," she said. "Sometimes I would insult people without intending to do so."

With the help of a government scholarship, she received a degree in hotel management from Sejong University in Seoul and found a steady job.

But she says her life is still lonely. She has not been on a date since arriving in South Korea.

And she is still paying off the brokers who helped her cross the Tumen River into China, where she lived a life of a refugee, and then on through Burma and Thailand to Seoul. (Brokers typically charge $1,500 to $6,000 to lead defectors to South Korea.)

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