217. [Is your mom North Korean?] Interview of Yeonhee (pseudonym) and Ms. Kim Myungioo (pseudonym) by JeongYejin
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  Name : HAFS Date : 2017-07-07 오후 8:49:21

Interview of Yeonhee (pseudonym) and Ms. Kim Myungioo (pseudonym) by JeongYejin

Is your mom North Korean?

A lot of time has passed since the two countries were divided. As a senior in high school, I have gained more interest in North Korean teen defectors through participating in the Korean Academy of Foreign Studies “Nanum (charity) concert.” I believe that understanding and awareness of North Korean defectors may be the first step in the direction toward reunification. In order to understand North Korean teen defectors on a deeper level, I interviewed North Korean teens at an alternative school for North Korean teens called Durihana International School.

The first person I interviewed was Yeonhee (pseudonym). There was an awkward atmosphere in the room; Yeonhee seemed defensive and nervous, being interviewed by a stranger. It was my first experience interviewing a younger student, let alone a North Korean. Before the first question, 1 asked her if I could record the interview in order to review her words. She replied “Recording....?” and expressed her discomfort. She didn't want her pictures taken and wanted to use a pseudonym rather than her own. Concerned, she said, “I'm scared that my friends from my previous school would talk if the photos were posted somewhere....”

Born of a North Korean mother and a South Korean father, Yeonhee attended an ordinary South Korean school till she transferred to Durihana International School last November. Yeonhee seemed at ease once she started describing how she transferred to this school with her friend Yoonji (pseudonym). She spoke about how she lived with Yoonji and Yoonji's younger sister in the dorms.

When queried about any moments when she experienced discrimination as a North Korean while attending an ordinary South Korean school, she related her story to me. While attending the ordinary South Korean school, she shared with one close friend that her mother was North Korean. That friend told her other friends; those friends used to ask Yeonhee, "Is your mom a North Korean?" Whenever they asked, she would answer vaguely and changed the topic. I sensed that she was hurt by these experiences. I believe that these experiences may have hurt Yeonhee enough so she now hides her stories.

Yeonhee plans to transfer to an ordinary South Korean middle school soon. Although she enjoyed her experiences at Durihana International School and cherished her memories there, she decided to take her mom's advice about her future benefits in going to an ordinary school. Concerning her transfer, she was worried that her new classmates perhaps had watched the television news about Durihana International School and seen her. Yeonhee worried about friends finding out that her mother is North Korean; I realized that even though she looked like any other elementary school student, she had concerns and hardships in her own environment. 1 was deeply moved by her situation.

We finished the first interview and I accompanied her back to her classroom. While walking her back, thoughts swam in my head. Due to her timidness, she didn't want her photo, any recording, or her name to be released. It wasn’t easy to live as a North Korean defector's child. She was hurt by discrimination and by what others thought. Moreover, even though Yeonhee was not a defector herself but a child of a defector, she worried so about others. I felt sorrow at how much discrimination other North Korean teen defectors may have experienced and may now be living with.

I felt many emotions interviewing thirteen year old. Yeonhee who seemed as mature as a high school student. I realized that our society is still inhospitable to North Korean defectors and their children. I reflected that, although we despise being abused by power, members of our society may be carelessly abusing North Korean defectors. In order to live equally as neighbors, without discrimination, our whole society must make every effort to accomplish a paradigm shift.

Chinese immigrant? North Korean defector? Aren't they the same?

With concerns from my first interview, I began the second. I saw liveliness in the interviewee‘s face as she walked in. Introducing herself as Myungjoo Kim (pseudonym), she served as a deaconess at Durihana International School; she worked hard for the alternative school, taking on many roles such as dorm administration, cafeteria management, and piano teacher. Hearing her cheerful answers made my nervousness disappear. She allowed me to record her interview bur said that she would prefer not to take photos. She said “[she] still had family in North Korea.” Her reply tugged at my heart.

Deaconess Myungjoo defected to China in 1998 at age 19. She stayed in China for -bout nine years until she met the pastor of Durihana International School and then entered South Korea. She had studied at an art school hat focused on fine arcs, instrumental music, lance, and speech (oratory, demagogy). In North Korea, this school was famous and well-known to secure graduates a stable job as a music teacher, which made her parents very proud.

However there, she explained, that the dorm conditions were very poor. Every meal consisted of porridge made of rotten flour. There was no heating system, even in the midst of winter; she had to wash her face (and even fabric sanitary pads) in cold water. Living for four years in this environment, she gradually became ill with nephritis. Fortunately, her mother's relatives' homes were close to the border of China. She had heard that she could earn a lot of money in China, so she escaped North Korea to China.

She believed that the people from other countries could never imagine tilt horrors draught by Kim Il Sung and Kim long Il in North Korea. In North Korea, Kim Il Sung and Kim long Il are like gods. She said that loyalty was created and transferred through numerous loyalty oaths; if you’re born and raised there, you assumed that the system was a natural one. It was sad to hear that she could not question or doubt the North Korean regime. She had only learned about the North Korean system and never was taught about political systems outside of North Korea. This reminded me of the austerity of the North Korean system.

When asked about any hardships experienced when she came to South Korea, she touched my heart. “Hardships in South Korea?” It is a luxury to think that there are hardships in South Korea! She could not complain because she came safely to South Korea from North Korea. In South Korea, unlike North Korea, one can earn as much as one works. The relationship between the government and an individual, or between two individuals, was very transparent. However, when people ask her, “Are you Korean Chinese or a North Korean defector? Aren't they both the same?” she felt ostracized.

Currently thirty-nine years old, the deaconess explained that she was a mother of two. She speaks freely with her mother in law, who is in her 70s, The present North Korea is very similar to South Korea in the 1960’s to 1980's. She expressed her concerns about the difficulties North Korean defectors have in adapting to South Korea. Governmental systems are of vital importance for North Korean teen defectors and the North Korean defector community; she expressed sadness at the lack of governmental support tor children born to a Chinese father and a North Korean mother. The government provides no financial support for these children. Their identity crisis of being chinese, North Korean, and South Korean, is substantial and they ready have nowhere to go. I realized that the current government welfare system tor North Korean defectors needed to be updated for the urgency for a support for people who were born in China.

South Koreans' views of North Korean defectors have changed a lot. In the past, South Koreans were more loving and affectionate toward them. Now, I no longer feel that sympathy from young adults currently in their 20's and 30's. Aren't we part of a single nation? Shouldn't we coexist? Wouldn't we have been desperate to flee our motherland North Korea also and risk our lives as they have? North Korean defectors are truly a wounded people. I plead that more affluent, comfortable South Koreans embrace North Korean defectors.

After hearing the deaconess’ words, I realized the importance of empathy rather than pity tor thee North Korean defectors. We all must strive to make a society that we can live in.