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Saeteomin Students: The Future Bridge between the Two Koreas

The murder of Kim Jong-Nam is a representative case that has revealed the dark side of Kim Jong-Un’s reign of terror and there are more than 30,000 Saeteomins (Defectors from North Korea) who have fled to South Korea in order to depart from the regime. Saeteomins, however, can face other kinds of adversities in South Korea, and many are escaping to third countries. Considering that half of the escapees are in their early 20s and the role of young Saeteomins is crucial in improving the relationship between the two Koreas, people should be deeply interested in the defectors of this age range. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) now analyzes the aspects of recent defections of Saeteomins, the difficulties that Saeteomin students are encountering and possible solutions to cope with these issues. In addition, the SKT interviewed a Saeteomin Kingo hoping that other Kingos will take a chance to think about the Saeteomins around them.

Saeteomins and Saeteomin Students

Saeteomins

Saeteomin is a Korean word for a North Korean defector who has set up a new life in South Korea. Currently, there are two aspects regarding the defection of Saeteomins. Firstly, the number of Saeteomins is increasing. According to the Ministry of Uni_cation, the number exceeded 1,400 last year. Since the reign of Kim Jong- Un began at the end of 2011, it has been declining dramatically due to reasons like stricter border control at the border between China and North Korea.

newdaily.co.kr

Consequently, it had decreased from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,400. The number, however, has started to rise again since August of last year, with a recorded 30,000 Saeteomins living in South Korea for the first time in November. Secondly, the motives for defection have changed. Unlike in the past, when most refugees pursued the obtainment of a livelihood, many are now defecting in order to seek a better quality of life. According to experts, the number of Saeteomins has increased because of the delusion with the communist regime of Kim Jong-Un and admiration for South Korea.

Saeteomin Students

Last year, 40% of Saeteomins were in their teens or in their 20s and 10% of these were university students. Young Saeteomins of school age are especially important for the preparation for unification, as the possibilities for their development are striking in many ways. In fact, the school education they gain is a crucial factor of socialization, which leads to greater adaptability in society. Moreover, as they have connections with both South and North Korea, they could effectively act as a bridge between the countries. In reality, however, many Saeteomin students do not successfully adapt to their new culture. Although their intention for defection was to improve their quality of life, there are a lot of students who fail to accomplish this goal. In fact, Saeteomins in their 20s account for over half of Saeteomins who leave South Korea and immigrate to third countries like England, Canada, and the United States (US).

Difficulties Saeteomin Students Encounter in Korea

There are several obstacles that hinder Saeteomin students from successfully settling down in South Korea.

Mental Difficulties

Mental problems are the most severe hardship that Saeteomin students are suffering. There are various types of emotional difficulties. Firstly, many feel various kind of dilemmas. Although they recognize that the ideology of North Korea is undesirable, they dislike people who criticize North Korea. Secondly, many experience trauma during defection. They keep remembering the horrendous memories of extreme tension when they were censored by North Korean or Chinese authorities. Thirdly, a lot of Saeteomin students are shocked by the break-up of their family. According to Statistics Korea, 70% of them undergo separation from their families and 53.5% grow up in single parent families. Despite these difficulties, there are very few mentors or social workers to help them.

Social Difficulties

Many Saeteomin students are troubled by a sense of alienation from other Korean students and experience indifference toward them. Additionally, some South Korean students tease them for their distinctive tone of voice. According to a survey conducted by the Korea Educational Development Institute (KEDI), 54% of Saeteomin students said that if they transfer to another school, they will conceal the fact that they are from North Korea. In 2012, 30% of Saeteomin students who suspended their studies decided to leave their school because of isolation from others.

Academic Difficulties

Firstly, there are differences between South and North Korean education. The North Korean constitution stipulates that the objective of its education is to nurture communists and a schools’ curriculum is focused on ideology based education. Consequently, South Korea does not acknowledge North Korean education, not admitting certificates of North Korea such as the teacher’s license. Secondly, Saeteomin students have a hard time catching up with studies, which leads to a higher rate of suspension. The rate is six to ten times higher than that of South Koreans. Their academic ability is lower because of the gap in education during defection. They stay in third countries like China for a long time, where they do not receive a strong education either. In fact, 46.2% of Saeteomins have lived in third countries for at least two years before entering South Korea. The most severe factor troubling Saeteomin students is the issue of English language. Three out of ten Saeteomin university students who had taken time off studies or dropped out of school replied that they decided to take time off because of this. Possible Solutions Currently, the South Korean government and people are only focused on providing financial aid. In order to solve the problems Saeteomin students are confronting, there should be a fundamental change. Understanding the adversities of Saeteomins from diverse perspectives is crucial for social integration. There are several possible solutions that can aid Saeteomin students.

Increase in the Number of Helpers

There should be an increase in professional counselors who are able to help Saeteomin students to more easily adjust. Currently, only middle schools and high schools that have more than ten Saeteomins students have counselors. Additionally, more practical assistance is desirable. For example, an education center for Saeteomin students under the KEDI has a NK teacher academy. They train NK teachers, who were actual schoolteachers in North Korea, and accredit them to schools. They help Saeteomin students individually and act as a bridge between students, teachers, and parents. As the NK teachers are also from North Korea, it is easier for them to give practical advice. This academy was _rst opened in 2010, but still there are only few schools adopting the system.

Opening Ceremony of the First NK Teacher Academy/ blog.naver.com/hub4unet

Improvement of the Education System

There should be more customized programs for Saeteomin students who need academic assistance. For example, last December, there was a ten-week pre-college course by Mulmangcho, a North Korean human rights group. Students learned subjects including writing, English, and Korean history through the program. An extension of such programs would provide Saeteomin students with more opportunities to narrow the academic gap with Korean students.

Change in Perception

South Korean students should not feel superiority over Saeteomin students or pity them either. Instead, people should change their perspective and focus on building personal and deep relationships with the refugees. Rather than taking part in temporary voluntary services, Koreans should participate in one-to-one mentor programs. The government should also help the two groups get along well by increasing its promotions.

Interview

Currently, there are several Saeteomin Kingos attending SKKU and the SKT interviewed one of our undergraduate students.

Q1. Could you tell us about yourself?

I am a senior at SKKU, majoring in Business Administration. In 2008, I defected from North Korea with my parents and luckily, we did not experience major hardship during the defection. We stayed in China for a week and then about two months in Thailand. I still remember being shocked by the unfamiliar sights of brightly lit streets and many cars on the road in China. Three months later, we settled in South Korea. I do not know the precise procedure of running away, but the Korean government came to Thailand and helped us move to South Korea.

Q2. What kind of hardships did you experience in South Korea?

When I first came here, I confronted an identity crisis. Although I regarded North Korea as my country, I could not claim that I was a North Korean. This gap between notion and reality confused me a lot. Another difficulty was culture shock. In North Korea, it takes a long time to build a relationship. In South Korea, however, there are many shallow relationships built only under necessity, which hurt me a lot. Lastly, I suffered from low self-esteem. I used to think that it was my fault that I could not do well in school, despite the fact that the primary reason was insufficient opportunities of education in the North. This feeling naturally led to low dignity.

Q3. Please tell us about Saeteomin students in SKKU.

SKKU only recruits Saeteomins who are transfer students in most majors, except in education. The special admission standard for Saeteomin students is included in the admissions for foreigners. Other universities usually categorize them as overseas residents. I transferred to SKKU last year and there is no Saeteomin community in SKKU because there are very few Saeteomin students here.

Q4. What are your future plans or dreams?

I want to contribute to the unification of South and North Korea. There are two reasons for this goal. Firstly, I have gained numerous advantages from South Korea such as a scholarship and the chance to become a student at SKKU. I want to return all these favors by taking a role in unification. Secondly, I have a sense of duty to our nation. During defection, I was not a citizen of a country for three months. Through this experience, I learned the significance of country and the sense of belonging. Considering that South and North Korea were separated because of a lack of power, making our country stronger is crucial. I want to be a bridge between the two nations that I love so much. To be specific, I dream of working at international organizations or in the press. I believe these places will let me understand this society better, which is necessary for the cultural integration of the two Koreas. If I become part of an international organization, I would be able to observe two Koreas from the view point of the third party, gaining an objective eye. Likewise, if I work in the press, I will be looking forward to being able to comprehend our society in a more profound way.

Q5. Any last words for Kingos?

Saeteomins long for enduring friendships. We feel lonely because we do not have all of our family or friends in Korea. If people reach out their hands first, we will definitely appreciate the warm helping hand. Moreover, I hope Kingos will contemplate a sense of duty towards our nation. We are always mandatorily involved in North Korean issues. Therefore, we should not be indifferent to North Korea’s problems or unification and keep in mind that these should be matters of the utmost concern. Additionally, a democratic country is something that the public build together. In order to construct a strong nation, we should have sufficient knowledge of our society.

People should not consider one Saeteomin student as just a single person. Every one of them is closely linked with North Koreans, members of our family that we lost as a result of tragic history. Since Saeteomin students are expected to be the bridge between South and North Korea in the future, in order to prepare for any possible future unification, we should help them to successfully adjust to our society and accept them as our true companions.

김하은  haeun047@naver.com

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