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North Korean defectors still facing challenges when settling in South Korea

Seol Song Ah  |  2016-10-28 12:45
Freedom in North Korea is considered a luxury. When I was in North Korea, I sometimes felt an impulse to escape from my middle school and play freely outside. I also felt rebellious in my younger years when we had to recite the Ten Principles for the Establishment of the Single-Ideology System.

At those times, I would just run out to the playground holding an osari (beanbag toy) without much concern for the consequences. I still cherish the memories from those days.

But those short bursts of freedom had to be repaid through corporal punishment, as I was labelled a liberalist who causes the class to neglect the study of the Suryongs [supreme leader] ideology. Torrents of ideological criticisms were poured on me, demanding that I arm myself with the leader's ideas in order to be a good person. The people of North Korea cannot escape the chains of obedience, as they live under the slogan, 'The leader is the fatherland, and without the fatherland, we cannot exist.' This situation is purported to be the "greatest achievement" of the three leaders (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un).

But I came to learn more about the truth of the regime through information from (illegal) South Korean radio broadcasts, and began to see the world differently from then on. I learned what genuine freedom is supposed to be, and wanted to defect from the country to live freely without constraints. During my initial period of settling in South Korea, I was full of ambition to live life in a capitalist paradise.

But living in South Korean society was not as simple as I imagined. I can only enjoy freedom within the boundaries of the law, and am held responsible for my actions. At first, I was not aware of the fact that respect for the law is a basic quality that most South Korean citizens hold dear. So the first barrier I met coming to the nation was that I was unaware of the importance of the laws. Defectors like myself can easily feel betrayed by the limited freedom in South Korea, because it is somewhat different from the paradise we expected after risking our lives. Defectors who cannot understand this gap have a hard time reconciling with reality.

There are various types of defectors in South Korea, of whom there are nearly 30,000 at present, ranging from high-ranking officials, soldiers, traders, scholars and ordinary citizens, but they generally share the similar inclinations. This is particularly true when it comes to the unique style of North Korean self-esteem which sometimes turns into narcissism or aggression. But in our defense, every defector would likely have been frustrated at least once while learning the true meaning of freedom and equality in South Korea.

Settlement can become a success from the moment a defector realizes the genuine meaning of the freedom. The concept of class so inescapably emphasized in North Korea is disregarded in South Korea. Anyone can become a part of wider society here if they try to integrate with humble minds. The defectors who are most successful are those who seek to contribute to South Korean society while improving themselves through learning. It is essential for the eventual reunification of the two Koreas that we have a society in which the defector community can proudly tell the residents of the North that they are enjoying freedom and prosperity in South Korea.
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