The numbers of North Korean defectors entering South Korean universities are getting larger and larger. In the case of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies about 120 North Korean students are registered and following their dreams. 70 students are currently attending Sogang University and there are also 25 students at DU now. Two defectors graduated from Dongguk University(DU) last year.
As the percentage of students from the North increases, so has the financial support from universities. Students who are accepted into National universities receive full scholarships and students who enter private universities receive half scholarships from the South Korean government. Moreover, some universities provide additional backing for North Korean students.
For example, Soongsil University gives five North students 14,000,000 won in order to subsidize their living expenses for the semester. North Korean students at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies regularly have meetings with the president of the school. These are held with the aim of helping the North Korean students to adjust to South Korean society more easily.
Dongguk University also affords some assistance for North Korean students. Twenty four students at Dongguk University receive full scholarships so that they do not have to worry about their tuition. In addition to the financial support, professors and school faculty members give spiritual comfort to the students. "It is really hard when there is nobody who empathizes with my story," said an anonymous North Korean defector who studies at Dongguk University(DU).
"Fortunately, I can overcome the mental stress and difficulties by interacting with Professor Kim Yong-hyun and school faculty member Rue Byun-sung. They always try to listen to our stories with sincerity and communicate with us. I always appreciate it."
South Korean students have taken an indifference stance towards the North Korean defectors. Many do not even know that there are North Korean students attending the school. Su-young Cho, a junior at Dongguk, said, "I have never thought about them. I have heard from someone that there were college students from the North at other universities, but I did not know that there were North college students currently here, too."
Moreover, some students hold prejudices against the North Korean students. They regard them as firm and dogged people. "North Korean defectors have experienced many crises in the North. They were facing life and death situations while they were defecting, so I think that they are unyielding and tough rather than negotiating," a junior at Dongguk, said.
North Korean university students living in the South have the potential to become pivotal players who can help both the South and the North to achieve peaceful reunification despite the fact that South Korean students are indifferent and hold prejudices against them. Because North Korean students have lived in the South and have experienced the two nations' cultural, ideological and academic differences they have a lot to offer.
In this sense, they have a better understanding of each nation objectively rather than their South Korean counterparts which may make them helpful in devising effective ways for peaceful reunification.
Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies, also agrees that North Korea students can play a role in peaceful reunification. He continued by saying that North Korean university students have the ability to see the problems on the Korean Peninsula more objectively. An anonymous North Korean student attending DU told The Dongguk Post about his similar objective.
"When I first came to South Korea, I primarily just concentrated on earning money and living for myself. I did not consider and worry about the people that I left behind in the North. After a few years, I began to question my identity and who I was, because I rarely felt that I was Korean even if I was living in South Korea. People always classified me, and called me a North Korean. I decided to enter university in order to improve the condition of the defectors to the South. If defectors can adjust to South Korea well and become intellectuals reunification can be easier.
Especially, when problems between the South and North arise, North Koreans who have adjusted well in the South can do a good job in negotiating and relieving the tension since we understand the North Korean way of thinking. I study at university now but long for the day when I can work as a leader of reunification. I escaped from the North but I would love to open the door to my hometown and walk to the North confidently and proudly."
Another anonymous North Korean student pointed out South Korean university students' indifference toward North Koreans. "Frankly speaking, North Korea has a more amicable relationship with China rather than with South Korea. Because of media influences, the people of the North also think like this.
It makes more sense for the North to be integrated into China and not Korea in all honesty. I do think that reunification thinking should not only be the work for North Koreans living in the South but also the work of South Korean students. We need to prepare together for ourselves." an anonymous North Korean student strongly insisted.
Change is coming, which can be a comforting thought. The program "The Academy of Development Aid to North" was held on the Ehwa Women's University on the 23rd of March hosted by Ehwa Institute of Unification Studies (EIUS). This is a semester course with the plan to discuss effective ways to support and fulfill the needs of residents in North Korea.
About 40 participants attended from various fields that included NGO (Non Government Organization) staffs for North Korea, a representative of a corporation, an engineering expert, and college students from both the North and South. In their first day at the academy they tackled the question, "How can we find ways to support the North?" The students from the North and South were full of passion in their efforts to solve this problem.
EIUS also held their third "Debate Contest of History, Peace, and Unification" on the 26th of March under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Unification. In the orientation, participants were divided into 24 groups, including at least one student from the North per group. This provided a forum for conversation between the North and South Korean students.
Jung-min Park, a sophomore at Ehwa Women's University, said, "I think that it is very important for South Korean students to have interest in the North Korean students. I saw some students who were opposed to reunification without solid reasoning or logic. They just never took the time to think about the North and South. I was able to listen to North Korean students' opinions in this contest so I could understand their situations and gain a better perspective at what goes on inside the North." Park participated in the debate contest the previous year and received the second prize.
All of the participants of the academy and the contest emphasize that it is essential to have an interest in the North, and that the first step is communicating with them.
"To become more intimate with the students from North Korea we need to communicate with them and we need to see how they live here. When we do this, we will be able to treat them with more consideration and compassion. They want us to be honest with them and not to speak ill of them behind their backs. This is the least we can do," said Hye-sung Chae, a teacher at Yeomyung School which is an alternative school for North Korean defectors.
She added that "It is also essential for us to gain from them what we can as beneficiaries while helping them at the same time. North Koreans are not the only ones in need of help here and we need to work with each other on equal footing."
Park Ji-hyun, Yun Seon-ju firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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