Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teenagers lead the way in reconciling the Koreas

A new program in Seoul, seeks to overcome the yawning cultural gap that has developed during the six-decade divide between the Communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. It brings together teenage South Koreans and North Korean defectors in a rare experiment here in building affinity — and preparing for possible reunification.

“Although we share the same genes, South and North Koreans live like completely different peoples, with different accents, different ways of thinking and behaving,” said the Rev. Benjamin H. Yoon, 80, head of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

Under the program, the Citizens’ Alliance, a civic group founded in 1996, has brought together students from Kyunggi Girls’ High School in Seoul with young North Korean defectors for extracurricular activities. They have attended concerts together. They have cooked and compared North and South Korean dishes. The North Koreans, adept at farm work, have shown the South Koreans how to harvest yams and make scarecrows. The Southerners have given the Northerners tips on how to succeed socially as well as academically. They have made friends.

After mingling with the North Korean teenagers for a semester, hearing about their hardships and their concerns for relatives left behind, the South Koreans said they believed more strongly in unification, but now less for economic reasons than something closer to good will.

“Before I joined this program, I considered unification with a calculator, not with my heart for fellow Koreans in the North,” Ms. Hur said.

With the number of North Korean refugees rising about 10 percent annually, how to integrate them has become an early test for possible unification.

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