It seems inappropriate to describe Kim Yong-hee as blessed. The teenager hasn't seen his father in two years, and his mother disappeared a year ago. He lives in one of Asia’s wealthiest countries, but in adulthood he is likely to encounter discrimination from potential employers and, if he manages to find work, a salary well below the national average.
Yet Yong-hee, a North Korean who escaped to South Korea two years ago, considers himself fortunate. "I like living here because it's wealthy and I can do more or less what I like, but I miss my parents," he says.
Yong-hee is one of 200 young defectors studying at Hangyeore, a government-funded facility 80 kilometers south of Seoul. Students ages 13 to 24 attempt to acquire the skills they need to adjust to life in a wealthy democracy. Many students arrive without parents and bear the emotional scars of a childhood spent in one of the world's poorest and most repressive countries. Most witnessed public executions and saw members of their family die of starvation.
But as many defectors have discovered, arrival in the South does not necessarily signal the end of hardship. Poor language skills and residual prejudice mean defectors typically earn much less than South Koreans. Their unemployment rate is almost 14 percent compared with the national average of 4 percent.
[Christian Science Monitor]