After three years living alone in South Korea — paranoid and scared to talk to anyone — North Korean defector Kang Ok Sil decided she'd had enough. She decided to marry a South Korean man.
Kang, 40, is happy with her choice — so happy, in fact, that she now helps her husband Hong Seung Woo with the matchmaking agency he runs to connect North Korean women and South Korean men.
There are officially over 17,000 North Koreans living in South Korea, and almost 80% of North Koreans defecting today are women. "This is a shortcut for their adaptation," says Kang.
Until recently, most North Koreans landing in the South, like Kang, had little or no contact with the outside world before they left home. Figuring out how to integrate into the fast-paced, capitalist world of Seoul can take years. Matchmaking companies play a uniquely symbiotic role in South Korea, helping balance the nation's surplus of bachelors.
Marriage, of course, is not the only path toward assimilation. As the number of North Koreans living in the South has grown, support networks have too. The government has created work and study programs geared toward North Koreans, and churches help by providing practical information and coaching to cope with culture shock. Dozens of civic groups are also trying to raise awareness or fight for North Korean defectors' rights and several North Korean newspapers, radio channels and associations have been set up in the past few years.