213. [North Korean refugee nurse] Interview of Ms. Lee Soonjeong (pseudonym) by Lee Songyi
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  Name : HAFS Date : 2017-07-07 오후 2:55:00

Interview of Ms. Lee Soonjeong (pseudonym) by Lee Songyi

North Korean refugee nurse

‘What if North and South Korea were reunited?’ The thought flashed through my mind while reminiscing bout my childhood. I was singing the song ‘Our wish is to be Reunified.’ When I watched reunions of separated family members on TV, and choked up. I had participated the last two years in the charity concert to help teenagers in School but 1 had never met a North Korean. Now, I had a chance to meet a woman who escaped from North Korea. My heart pounded while I waited to interview her. Her name is Soonjeong Lee; she wanted to use a pseudonym because revealing her real name might put her family, still residing in North Korea, in danger. Soonjeong is 25 years old, born in North Korea, a graduate from nursing school, and an escapee to South Korea which occurred while working as a nurse. During our interview, she sincerely shared many stories with me.

Q: So, did you come straight from North to South Korea?

A: “No, it couldn’t be done that way because the whole route is a minefield and is strictly guarded. So I came through China to South Korea. When escaping to China, if the guard had stopped me, then I had to stop. If 1 hadn't stopped, they would have shot me immediately. If I had gotten caught on my way to China, they would have sent me back to North Korea. There I would have been sent to forced labor as a slave or I would have been sentenced to jail for one to two years. However, if I had gotten caught on my way to South Korea from China, I would have been sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners, euphemistically called a ‘reeducation camp’ for the rest of my life. This means you can never dream of escaping. That's definitely easier said than done.” She seemed to hate thinking about her escape to South Korea, but told me vivid details about it.

Q: Why did you want to escape to South Korea?

A: “Well, I heard that freedom is allowed in South Korea. Actually, at first, I went to China to earn money. Every single day was like a continuing game of hide and seek. I could not even breathe freely (which I hated) but I never wanted to go back to North Korea. Finally, I decided to come to South Korea, where there are guaranteed freedom and citizenship to North Korean defectors.”

Q: Is there a special high school in North Korea?

A: “There is only one special school where the top students are selected from each classroom. They usually take exams for entrance but some are admitted to the school based on who their parents are.”

Q: What is the difference in classes between North and South Korea?

A: “South Korean students learn all the histories that the Korean country has had. However, North Korea teaches a distorted history, only the history of Kim long I1 and Kim Il Sung.”

Q: you learned this distorted history did you realize that it was distorted?

A: “I did not know then,” she sighed, saying that she learned its true history shortly after her arrival in South Korea.

Q: Are there any outcasts in North Korean schools like there are in South Korea?

A: “Oh, of course. But it’s different from South Korea. In North Korea, it's really up to the student. When a student skips school, then the other students must bring him or her co school. Here, nobody cares about absentees. There, other students keep visiting the absentee until he or she returns to school. How annoying to think that's how outcasts are formed.”

Q: Is there Scholastic Aptitude Test like in South Korea?

A: “Yes, a similar one, I do not quite remember the name of it but there is an entrance test to get into college.”

Q: If you are not going to college, then what type of work do you do?

A: “They probably would just work in a factory or farm..”

Q: If you are attending college, would you he able to defer or avoid joining the army?

A: “No. Joining the army is required for all men, except perhaps one or two. But everyone else must go. When I was there, men who joined the military were proud to be soldiers. But sometimes soldiers tried to escape the army or died of malnutrition... Once they are discharged from military service, they start working or open their own business. They must pretend to be working. If government "officials discover that they are not working for a company or the government and are just operating their own business, the government can drag the into military service. Originally there was a rationing system and the government distributed 700g rice pet person per day. However, since North Korea's economic condition has worsened, the government has distributed a ration of only 2-3kg of rice on holidays. How can anyone survive with that? That is why North Koreans farm, sell, steal, beg, and escape to China.”

Q What do you think is the most urgent thing needed for the education of North Korean defectors?

A: “English! Foreign languages. South Korea uses many foreign languages. I came here when I was 25 years old, and I had a hard time getting used to the foreign words, in the North there are no other languages besides the Korean language. It was so difficult for me that I deeply learned what the word ‘stress’ means.”

Q: Are there religions in North Korea?

A: “No. There are only Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, home people believe superstitions; but they must be careful or they might be caught.”

Q: If Korea were reunified, what do you think is the first thing that should be done in North Korea?

A: “Build welfare facilities and hospitals.”

Q: Aren't there many hospitals in North Korea?

A: “With a hollow smile, she said, 'Hospital? Thcre are only two of them. Yanggang-do (state) hospital and Haesan-si (city) Hospital, just two of them. There are a few tiny clinics in towns but they are all very small, perhaps the size of a pharmacy in South Korea. That’s it! Just two big hospitals!”

Q: Then, what if you need an operation?

A: “You should enter one of those two big hospitals. The size of hospital... I worked in a three or four-story-building.”

Q: Do you have any advice for North Korean teenager defectors?

A: “I know how it is when they come to South Korea. Sometimes they are too excited with the concept of freedom and other times they fed really stressed and confused with everything. They should focus on studying and learning only positive things instead of learning about negatives such as cigarettes....”

Q: What do you want to say about North Korea to South Korean students?

A: “South Koreans hold stereotypes of us. A Many of them consider North Korea a poor and ignorant country. However, North Korea is also part of Korea. South Koreans should understand that North Koreans don’t know what they are doing because they are used to following what the government tells them to do. I heard that North Korean students can be outcasts in a regular South Korean school. I wish South Koreans would show consideration for and embrace North Koreans. Changing their negative thoughts and impressions would be the most important thing to do”

At the end, Lee said that, while some people look down on North Korean defectors, most South Koreans are kind and good. She wanted to make friends with good South Koreans. Even though he has lived in Korea for seven years, she expressed difficulties making South Korean friends. ‘What obstacles would he have in South Korea?’ I thought. She is pretty, speaks well, and has no accent. I suspect that the obstacles are our prejudices. We both are Koreans and have just lived apart for a brief moment in a long history. Seven years is not long enough to get over the prejudices! I sighed out of sadness.