It has been 68 years since the Korean peninsula divided into two parts: North and South. While the unification of North and South Korea has been continuously mentioned over the last 60 years, there still lie numerous barriers. The distance between two seems to be far away in that we do not know about each other in depth. In order to take one step further to unification, it is essential to understand each other. In Dongguk University, there are 42 North Korean students who entered the school through the screening process for North Korean defectors. Hence, The Dongguk Post interviewed a North Korean student Park Kyung-ho (alias) in Dongguk University to know more about North Korean society through his experience.
Q. When did you come to South Korea? What made you decide to come here?
A. I came to South Korea in August, 2010 when I was 23. I decided to come to South Korea to earn money. Arriving in the South, I worked in Samsung’s shipyard since I did welding work for three years when I was in the North. Spending a year in the shipyard, I had some difficulties in communicating and thus felt the need to enter the university.
Q. When did you first make your attempt to flee from North Korea?
A. I actually made two attempts. First, it was February in 2010. When I was crossing the Tumen Riverside, I got arrested and went into North Korea State Security Agency. I cannot even explain how it is like there. You just get seriously hit and tortured over and over, and many people die from malnutrition. In March, I managed to escape from there. Then, I made my second attempt to escape from the North and finally succeeded in crossing the Tumen River in June that year. Crossing the Tumen River, there was a huge psychological burden as it was directly related to my life. If I had made one mistake, that would have been the end of my life.
Q. Can you tell me how it was like in North Korean schools?
A. The general atmosphere was very similar to South Korea. Yet, making choices of future career was very different. In North, after graduation, male students have to go to the army without exception. It might seem the same in the South, but North Koreans should stay in the army for ten years. For women, most of them get married soon. It is only the very talented ones with financial power who go to university. In the case of the school I went to, only one or two percent of the entire school body went to university.
Q. Have you ever witnessed human trafficking in North Korea?
A. Trafficking of women is a serious problem in North Korea. In the era of great famine known as “The Arduous March,” it was particularly severe. Women were sold to China in droves. The younger and the prettier, the more expensive they become. Not only trafficking, women’s rights in North Korea are severely curtailed. I heard a lot of stories of young women being raped by brokers. When staying over at several places while escaping from the North, Chinese male brokers sleep in women’s room and sexually abused them. It is not easy for them to resist or report to anyone since they would get killed if they are caught by the police. Moreover, many ordinary female citizens in North Korea get raped every day. It happens on the road since there are few CCTVs and at homes as well, owing to the patriarchal environment. Even more, the police investigation is not done properly.
Q. How was South Korea shown on North Korean media when you were in North?
A. I barely saw positive issues about South Korea through media. I saw many beggars and criminals suffering in jails which I did not actually see in South Korea. On media, South Korea seemed to be in a suffocating and unstable environment where the president does not love and care about the citizens. It is like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Such images of South Korea shown on media become a widely-accepted theory in North Korean Society. Although South Korean media do work to prevent such unilateral functioning, only a few people get to know what is really true since there are a lot of restrictions in receiving information from South in that it is considered to be “illegal.”
Q. Then, what do you think about the information shown on South Korean media about North Korea?
A. I think the image of North Korea shown on the current South Korean media has its background of 10 years ago. It is provocative and exaggerated. It looks like they are in “The Arduous March” period. Now, the situation in North Korea is not that terrible as it is shown on South Korean media. North Korean citizens have changed the living patterns and work out one’s salvation by ones own effort. They do farm work, make their own lands, and conduct trade, which consequently created a lot of new underground markets. The gap between the rich and the poor is wider than it is in South, but not many people die of malnutrition. Many people think the North Koreans are starving due to low GDP, but the GDP cannot be seen as the financial viability of North Korean citizens since the money individuals earn is not counted in GDP.
Q. What activities do you personally do in South Korea to inform the problem of human rights in North Korea?
A. I have done several lectures that tell about the human rights in North Korea. I started doing it three or four years ago when working in North Korean human rights organization named ‘Nauh. At first, I was offered to do some lectures in national organizations. When doing lectures, I think not South Koreans but foreign people are more interested in the issue. I feel pity for that, since I believe South Koreans are the most important ones who should pay the most attention.
Q. Is there anything you want to tell university students?
A. There are a great amount of North Korean students who conceal the fact they are from the North. I feel so sorry for that. I hope South Korean students put away their prejudices and be more open-minded to them. Oftentimes, it is not easy to communicate smoothly due to cultural differences. I wish those differences are regarded as traits or characteristics of individuals rather than those of North Koreans.
Lim Ji-soo firstname.lastname@example.org
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