According to the Ministry of Unification, it is estimated that over 33,000 North Korean defectors currently live in South Korea. Yet, they are still subjected to prejudice and discrimination, as can be seen from research conducted by National Human Rights Commission of Korea. The Commission found that one in four South Korean citizens were unaccepting of North Korean defectors as South Korean citizens, and nearly 60 percent of South Koreans acknowledged that they were discriminated. Many individuals and organizations strive to counter these statistics and create room for positive change.
Podcast_Sabujak, a club dedicated to creating podcasts with North Korean defector guests, aims to rid of biases and discrimination surrounding them. Podcast_Sabujak was created in 2018, as a club in Yonsei University. In two years, they have interviewed 100 guests and delivered 400 stories.
An Sung-hyuk, a senior majoring Political Science and International Relations at Yonsei University, is the club’s team leader. He was also born in North Korea and escaped in 2011. An shared his experiences at the club with Ewha Voice.
“North Korean defectors often find it difficult to reveal their motherland,” An said. “This leads them to gradually forget or lock up their memories of their hometown. Even if they feel uncomfortable about sharing their stories at first, they are all very satisfied at the end of our podcast.”
When asked about discrimination he experienced, An stated there were several frequently asked questions. People were curious if North Koreans starved to death, if their situation is the same as portrayed in the media, how he escaped, and how he felt about the Kim regime.
“When I was younger, I used to tell everyone that I was from North Korea,” An said. “I needed help to adapt to South Korea in middle school, so I naturally explained my situation. As I grew, I became more cautious about revealing my motherland, because I want to avoid unnecessary situations. Although I do not think it is something to hide, I tend to talk about it less often.”
An emphasized that we should try not to victimize North Korean defectors or treat them differently. He gave the example of South Koreans who were born in the outskirts of the country. Their thick accents also subject them to stigma, and their friends often make jokes relating to it. Likewise, South Koreans should not treat North Koreans as victims or as different beings and be a little more sensitive regarding the intensity of their jokes.
Cho Hyung-jun, a junior student majoring in the Department of the English Language and Literature at Yonsei University, and head of production as well as main MC of the club.
Cho stated that his experience at Podcast_ Sabujak made him realize that there was still prejudice against North Korean defectors. He underlined Podcast_Sabujak’s goal, which is to deliver the stories of guests as “individual people,” instead of shackling them to the term “North Korean defector.”
Ewha is also providing several measures to help defector students. The school provides scholarships, non-credit English classes, mentoring programs and more, to help students adapt to the South Korean campus life. Furthermore, the club Eokkaedongmu, created by North Korean defector students in 2018, welcomes new students each year to further support each other. Professor Kim Seok-hyang, professor of the Department of North Korean Studies and the club’s academic advisor stated that these days, the club members gather to talk about volunteer work, or future career path.
“I think it is important for North Korean defectors to live their life to the fullest, and be happy,” Kim said. “It is extremely difficult to adapt to a completely new environment, especially when they are severed from their past relationships. Also, there are many people who believe they should be actively contributing to the unification of the two Koreas; but the more important thing is that they try to live a relaxed, happy life with their neighbors.”