Monday, October 18, 2010

For North Korean defectors in Seoul, even a cup of coffee is a learning experience

A group of nine Korean women is staring at a menu board at the entrance of a cafe in one of the gigantic shopping malls in central Seoul. A young woman facing the group explains different coffee drinks. “If you want coffee with nothing in it you can order an Americano. Cafe latte contains milk, and cafe mocha contains chocolate. If you want something sweet, cafe mocha is recommended,” says Lee Eun-chong, a social worker.

Says one defector, “Coffee is addictive. I am afraid once I get used to it, I will want it over and over again. It used to be a very expensive dessert in North Korea, and I couldn’t even try it back there.” 

The nine women are among the 19 female North Korean defectors who arrived at Dongbu Hana Center on September 30. These women, aged 20 to 60, are on their first field trip.  During the trip, they learn how to order at a cafe, shop for clothing and use public transportation from two of the center’s social workers. 

“We foster [defectors’] ability to cope with the social flow. During the initial period of settling here, North Korean defectors have minimal access to news, since they have no computers or televisions,” said Kim Jae-jung, head of Dongbu Hana Center.

As of next month, the number of North Korean defectors living in South Korea will reach 20,000. These 20,000 migrants are, in essence, the very first stage of North and South Korean unification.


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