“I’m Happy… Since I Can Do What I Want To”
Every spring after a long winter break, 12-year-old students go to school holding their parents’ hands in South Korea, with their hearts fluttering with expectations of new friends. And at dawn of one spring day, a 12-year-old boy named Soo-Hwan (assumed), who was living in North Korea, began his dangerous journey to South Korea. He crossed the Amnokgang (Yalu River) with his grandparents in utter darkness, and fortunately he was able to safely arrive at South Korea. His mind was filled with anticipation of his new life, where he can use electricity, a computer, and watch TV. “I felt as if I was on a trip.“
We asked him the reason for his decision to escape. To our question, Soo-Hwan answered, “to avoid military service,” without any hesitation. In fact, in North Korea, except for the most elite students who enter colleges, men are required to serve in the military at least ten years from the age of seventeen. During the service, soldiers barely get paid and are provided with only one or two furlough. Moreover, the soldiers have to face again with life’s arduousness when discharged, without having received any proper education during their service. The reality that he had to spend his youth in such a way was very difficult for 12-year-old Soo-Hwan to understand.
However, the life that Soo-Hwan encountered in South Korea for which he risked his life was far from what he expected. Contrary to fellow students who liked to play games, Soo-Hwan preferred to play sports and hence had trouble making friends. Soo Hwan also suffered substantially from bias against defectors. We asked him what kind of prejudice he experienced. Soo-Hwan answered, “I received many personal insults straight in my face,” and nonchalantly added, “I think I got inured to those situations.” For all that, the reality was still grim. Recently, Soo-Hwan got caught in a fraud case by his part-time job’s employer, who deliberately took advantage of the fact that Soo-Hwan is a defector and did not give his proper salary. “Since we were hardly familiarized with Korean legal system… we were conned.” Due to the difficulties in adjustment, Soo-Hwan lost both his confidence and smile.
He came to PSCORE’s Wednesday English Class like this two years ago. In South Korea, considerable proficiency in English is demanded for not only high grades and employment, but also daily life. Because classes in North Korea are fairly backward in English, English becomes a significant drag on many defectors. Fortunately, Soo-Hwan began to recover his confidence with high grades by steadily participating in Wednesday English Class. “I was able to confidently speak in English in front of other students during discussion classes in school. I also felt a sense of accomplishment that I could do better than others.”
Confidence in English soon led to restoration of Soo-Hwan’s confidence and increase in his sense of accomplishment in other areas. “It was like the butterfly effect.” Soo-Hwan, who enjoyed playing sports, including Jujitsu and boxing, registered to a gym with the money that he earned by working part-time jobs. The sense of achievement that he can do what he wants to do, and confidence he gained from betterment of his English skill and sports changed Soo-Hwan. “I wasn’t confident before… now I always laugh. My personality also changed. I am happy now.” He told us that his small wish is to continue playing sports. Later, Soo-Hwan shyly added that his acquaintance actually told him about how sports can help with relationship as well.
Lastly, we asked Soo-Hwan about his dream. He instantly replied, “I think that I should donate to this type of organization and students like me, once I earn enough money. I was really grateful when I received help. I sincerely want to pay back.”
While listening to his story, we were thankful and felt great that PSCORE was able to help any bit defectors and their community’s development.
Please support many more students in their journeys to achieve their dreams!