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School CP - March 2007
Radio Free Asia, Washington, 21 March 2007
North Korean Defectors Face Huge Challenges
North Korean defector Kang Won Chul. Photo courtesy of Kang Won Chul.
SEOUL -- Teenage North Korean defectors may have escaped starvation and repression, but they have a hard time playing catch-up with their South Korean peers once they resettle, RFA's Korean service reports.
"If they're well-fed now, it doesn't mean that the physical and mental effects of years of deprivation and starvation in North Korea have disappeared," said Ma Seok Hoon, executive director of the Bridges Society, a non-governmental group that looks after North Korean teenagers in the South.
Lagging behind at school
"Some of them were street children and school dropouts in North Korea, and that is why they are always at the bottom of their class in South Korea," Ma added.
Many have lost motivation after sacrificing years of education, which means they frequently have to study alongside much younger children.
"To us, North Korea, the country itself and its people seem pure and unadulterated. In South Korea, we are always stressed out because of our schoolwork, and also because everyone around us is aware that we're from the North," 18-year-old junior high school student Kim Ok Yi said.
"That is why we sometimes feel disheartened and cannot help but think of the old times in the North. Over there, our classmates never shunned us, and we were never under so much stress. Getting around and having food on the table were always a problem in North Korea, but leaving that aside, there was never such intense competition as we encounter in the South," said Kim, one of the 10,000 North Korean defectors now resettled in the South.
"Studying was more fun in North Korea. Regardless of whether we were told the truth or lies and distorted historical facts, history was taught using...old sayings, and the students liked that," she said.
She also revealed that corporal punishment was common in South Korean schools, and unheard of in the North.
"Right now, I wish that my South Korean teachers would stop hitting us. They always carry a cane, and they hit us if we don't do our homework. That really scares me. I thought good kids were not supposed to get hit, but if one does something wrong, the teachers apply collective punishment to the entire class," Kim said.
The younger defectors also suffer from psychological problems as they recover from traumatic events in the Stalinist, famine-stricken North, and continue to worry about loved ones left behind.
North Korean teenager Moon Hae Sung. Photo courtesy of Moon Hae Sung.
Studies show adjustment problems
According to a 2006 study conducted by the Korean Institute of
Criminal Justice Policy, about 47 percent of 210 North Korean
defectors interviewed were experiencing difficulties adapting to
life in South Korea.
On Feb. 9, 2007, Prof. Kim Hye Ran of Seoul National University's Department of Social Welfare announced the results of a survey based on a questionnaire answered by 65 teenage North Korean defectors.
According to the survey, one-third of the subjects missed life in the North. Also, while about one-third of respondents still thought of themselves as North Korean
The National Institute of the Korean Language found that it commonly takes defectors up to three years to overcome language differences in the South.
Original reporting in Korean by Jung Min Noh, Jinseo Lee, Si Chun, and Wonhee Lee. RFA Korean service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Translated and researched by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
© 2007 Radio Free Asia
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