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forming relationships


The boarding house where I live is quite big.



Apart from the owner there are three more ladies who prepare food for the students.


처음에는몰랐지만, 한달정도머물러보니이상한사실하나를발견했다.

Although I didn’t notice it at first, I sensed something strange after living there for one month.


학생들은주인아주머니와는인사도잘하고농담도하면서잘지내지만, 다른세명의아주머니와는거의한마디도하지않았다.

The students got along very well with the owner lady, talking and joking with her, but they almost didn’t say a word to the other three ladies.


한편, 세명의아주머니사이에서는화기애애한분위기속에많은대화가오갔지만, 정작학생들과는기본적인인사나대화조차하지않으려고했다.

While they seemed to be happily talking to each other, actually they didn’t greet or have a basic conversation with the students.


학생들이식사할때난동을부리는것도, 그아주머니들이불친절한것도아니었다.

At meals they did not disturb the students, but were not inhospitable, either.



It was all very strange.



The ladies’ Hamgyong dialect (I couldn’t tell whether they came from Hamgyong province or the area around it), which is not common in South Korea,
made the students feel some kind of cultural difference between them.



I wasn’t an exception.


나역시매일그어색한분위기속에서식사를해야했고, 의도적으로피하는경우도제법있었다.

Since I had to eat in this strange atmosphere, there were times when I deliberately avoided it.


시간이지나면지날수록, 오랫동안학교에서배워왔고 또당연시했던 ‘우리민족’에대한 개념이조금씩흔들리기시작했다.

As time passed by, the concept of “our nation,” that I learned at school and took for granted, became to shake.


그러던차에인터넷을검색하다가우연히 ‘성통만사’라는단체가있다는것과그단체가새터민과외프로그램을진행하고있음을알게되었다.

Because of this I searched the Internet and found out about PSCORE and its tutoring program for North Korean defectors.


그런프로그램이있다는사실을처음알았기때문에굉장한흥미를느꼈고, 어쩌면그경험들이나의고민을해결해줄수있을지도모른다는기대감에바로신청하게되었다.

That was the first time I heard about the program and since I was very interested I signed up immediately with the expectation that such an experience could resolve some of my troubles.


그렇게해서 2009년 1월 6일부터봉림이와만날수있게되었다.

After I joined I met Bong Rim.



Because of my awkward experience at the boarding house I was overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.


‘과연내가잘할수있을까… 괜히상처만주지않을까?’ 하는생각이머릿속에종종맴돌았다.

“Can I really do this right?…Wouldn’t I do more harm?” Such thoughts where often spinning in my head.



I wanted to hear someone’s advice but didn’t ask for one.



However, thanks to Bong Rim’s energetic and sincere character, the lessons went smoothly.


봉림이와만난지 2개월이넘었지만, 봉림이는공부하는내용이어렵거나숙제가많아도불평한번하지않았다.

More than 2 months have passed since I first met her, but she never complained that the studying is difficult or that she has a lot of homework.



Bong Rim was constantly doing her best and was always modest.


그런모습을지켜보면서, 나도힘이났던것같다.

I also felt stronger just looking at her.


수업과관련된자료를더찾아보게되고, 교재연구도더열심히하게되었다.

I searched for more materials related to my studies and did more research for my courses.


과외를진행하면서, 새터민이남한의교육과정에적응하는데있어가장어려운부분이바로영어를배우는것이아닐까한다.

As I kept tutoring, I thought that for the North Korean defectors on of the hardest things to get used to in the South Korean educational system is studying English.


영어가거의쓰이지않는북한과는달리, 남한에서는영어가널리쓰이는정도를넘어, 유아시절부터오히려모국어인한국어보다더많이배우고있다.

Unlike North Korea, where almost no one studies English, in South Korea it is used so much that little children study English many more hours than they study their native Korean.



As a result, the gap in English language skills between North Koreans and South Koreans is considerable.


하지만반대로영어에익숙해지고, 그격차를줄여간다면새터민이중?고등학교나대학생활에적응하는데있어훨씬수월할거라는희망을가져본다.

However, contrary to my expectations, North Korean refugees learn English well and as the gap between them and South Koreans is narrowing and there seems to be hope that it will be easier for defectors as they adjust to life in middle and high school or university.


이렇듯나의변변치않는영어실력이봉림이에게도움이된다는사실에도 뿌듯해했지만, 무엇보다내마음속에존재하던막막함과두려움이서서히걷혀간다는느낌에나는한껏고무되었다.

I felt satisfaction that my limited knowledge in English was of help to Bong Rim, but what is more important, I was greatly encouraged that the helplessness I felt before gradually disappeared.



Sometimes during the classes or in the breaks we talk about things unrelated to studying.


한참사회를들쑤셨던연쇄살인사건뉴스부터, 영화, 여행, 진로문제에이르기까지화제는다


Our conversation topics are various, the shocking news of a serial murder case, movies, travel, career plans.


어떻게보면사소한대화에불과할지도모르지만, 나는서로가살아왔던문화를이해할수있는소중한기회라고생각한다.

Those might be conversations of little importance, but for me they are a valuable chance to understand each other’s cultures.



Once I received an invitation for dinner from Bong Rim and her sister.


정성들여준비해주신음식또한일품이었거니와, 식사를하면서오랜시간동안나누었던진솔한대화역시너무나귀중한시간이었다.

The time I spent with them was really precious to me. Not only was the food very nice and carefully prepared, but we also had a very honest conversation at the dinner table.


그중에서 ‘남한사람들은새터민을어떻게바라보는가?’에관한대화가가장기억에남는다.

The thing I remember best is when we talked about how South Koreans look on North Korean refugees.


그당시나는선뜻대답을하지못했는데, 평소에그런고민을거의하지못한것을생각해볼때, 어찌보면당연한결과였다.

At that time I couldn’t answer this question directly. My hesitation was natural since I had never thought about it before.


그날이후, 주의깊게시청했던『내셔널지오그래픽-북한잠입편(2007)』, 『크로싱(2008)』등의영상물은내게깊은인상과함께많은물음들을던져주었다.

After that I watched movies like National Geographic’s “Inside North Korea” (2007) and “Crossing” (2008), which impressed me greatly and gave me a lot to think about.



People’s culture covers not just our material world but also the spiritual one.


법률과제도에의해변화될수있는정치, 경제분야와는달리문화는쉽게변하지않는다.

Unlike politics and economy, which can be changed by the laws and the regime, culture doesn’t change so easily.


생각해보면, 남한사회는분단이된지반세기가넘었음에도불구하고수천년간같은문화를공유해왔기에북한을동포라고생각하고있으며이는통일을주장하는데있어가장중요한근거가된다.

If we think about it, although it has been over half a century since the division of the peninsula, South Koreans can still think of North Koreans as fellow countrymen because they have shared the same culture for several thousand years. This is also the main argument for reunification.


하지만, 분단이후남과북사이의문화적이질감은더욱심해지고있다.

However, after the division the sense of cultural difference between South and North Korean has become stronger.


이말인즉, 남과북을하나로묶어주었던그 ‘문화’가남과북이다시재결합하는데있어가장큰걸림돌이될수있다는뜻이다.

Hence, the same culture that binds together them together can become the greatest obstacle to their reunification.



This is very well illustrated by the story of the boarding house I shared in the beginning.



I think of my involvement in the tutoring program for North Korean refugees as a valuable chance to understand each other’s culture and to reduce our cultural differences.



I hope that by doing this I am becoming more mature.



I don’t know whether I will be able to change the situation at my boarding house.



However, there isn’t a greater happiness to me than the one that I would get if my modest English skills help Bong Rim to better adapt to the South Korean society.




Translated by Teodora

2012 PSCORE. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.