215. [Prayer is answered] Interview of Ms. Ju Yeeun by Lee Seonyeong
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  Name : HAFS Date : 2017-07-07 오후 7:51:45

Interview of Ms. Ju Yeeun by Lee Seonyeong

Prayer is answered.

A year after escaping from North Korea, Yeeun, whose sister was caught during escape, could do nothing but pray. “There's no God,” someone whispered. Startled and frightened, she looked around, but no one was there. It must have been Satan. Satan's whispering echoed over and over again; his words didn't leave her mind until she ended her prayer. Since her faith in Christianity was still new and untested at that point he was more stirred and exhausted. However, she soon put her hands together and started to pray louder. ‘Help the evil voice disappear. Please save my sister.’A miracle occurred; her sister was released in thirteen hours and joined her in South Korea. Her prayer was answered.

After this incident, Christianity became a more important part of her life. Having selected theology as her major in order to learn Christianity further, she works at Durihana International School by day attends college by night. She had not ever dreamed of this kind of life, of having a belief in God, entering the College of Theology, since a faith in Christianity in North Korea was punished by a sentence of death.

Finishing her freshman courses, Yeeun is becoming accustomed to South Korean life. Even though she neither dislikes a particular subject nor is in an academically challenging program, she is acutely aware of the achievement gap. Especially, the lack of English skills is still a major barrier for her. Moreover, her hectic schedule prohibits any form of leisure. She had dawn prayer at 5:30 a.m., works at Durihana International School until 6 p.m., goes to college at night, and only then is able to catch some sleep after midnight.

She somehow takes time out of her busy schedule to study English and read books. She reads about five books per month, mainly biographies that show how people with difficult situations have succeeded in their lives. Such books give her inspiration to develop her own life. She recently read The Pleasure of Learning and was deeply impressed. Due to her busy schedule, she has little time to spend with her sister but is generally satisfied with her life in South Korea.

She was shocked when she first realized that she could board airplanes and subways whenever she wanted. She had never been on a plane in North Korea and only had ever seen one twice, so it was a dreamlike experience for her when she first took an airplane flight from Laos to South Korea. She'd never forget the thrill when the plane took off. Nevertheless, unpleasant things happened because she was so alien to them, She had to learn how to use and adapt to these new technologies. Modern tools such as computers are handy and convenient, but because she was clueless, she was often distressed and became miserable in some situations. She feared, “How can I live on if I fail to adapt to this life?” Also, a sense of inferiority poured in during the learning process; that she was far behind, bothered her.

One of the difficulties that people from North Korea undergo is discrimination. Fortunately, Yeeun hasn't had such experiences since she goes to Theological College. She related a story she heard of a boy, who had attended a regular school before coming to Durihana International School. In the regular school, he had a hard time adapting to South Korean school life. Fortunately, a class president helped him with many problems. He was very grateful. One day, he accidentally overheard a conversation of the class president with other classmates.

“I have to take care of him. He's a baby. I hate him.”

All his utterances and bitter curses were about the boy.

If the president had been unkind to him since the start, he would have ignored it. However, those words brought a huge disappointment since he'd relied on the president more than anyone else. Yeeun is concerned that South Korean teenagers have different faces and wants us to notice that all people are equal.

She already knew about some South Koreans’ callous attitude, but what really hit her was the concept of outcasts. When she went to school in North Korea, all the students got along with one another. They did not bully others as they are immersed in living hand to mouth.

about DPRK

In North Korean school, she had vacation homework. During summer, she had to press oil from the seeds of pumpkins and sunflowers. During winter, North Koreans kept warm with a stove at home, so she had to gather firewood. In addition to vacation homework, this gathering of wood caused her to work during her whole vacation. If she didn't complete her homework, she had to pay a fine to the school. Not only adults but also children had no down time. She had read only two books in her 20 years in North Korea. In one instance, after she had read a book, she was blamed by others and judged for idling away while everyone was working hard. Ironically, reading is vacation homework in South Korea, and students tend to skip reading, making many ridiculous excuses to their teachers.

Talking about schools led to further discussion about general life in North Korea. Classes, such as farming- class and working-class, as divided there, and certain classes were robbed of basic freedoms. Passing a university entrance exam is near impossible without a bribe. There are no workbooks or reference books for poorer students; only the children of the wealthy can thrive and study. It is almost impossible to work and study for entrance at the university at the same time. Also, children whose parents work at a factory or a farm must take over family occupation as they are handed down. Once, the law had banned children of farmers from entering college. Although the law was later abolished, it is rare for these children to enter college where others go by paying bribes to enter. Yeeun, a daughter of a farmer, could not think of migrating to other areas. She couldn’t enter college or take another occupation; she could only consider farming.

She had no choice because if she didn’t do farming, she would be subject to imprisonment, a so-called place of re-education. In North Korea, not even children arc given opportunity to think about their studies or to dream. A country which its citizens may not go to the beach near their homes; and every men must serve in the military for ten years- A country in which people die rescuing their tyrants' portraits from a fire. Citizens are not allowed to decide their own future. This is the nation where Yeeun had to live tor twenty years.

Although she has many terrible memories, she has fond memories, as well; she recalls that towns in North Korea had cultures of sharing foods and stories at holiday season, This is unlike urban South Korea where neighbors mean little. Sometimes she reflects a warm memory, hanging out with village friends. Thinking that she would rather die if caught, she attempted to escape from North Korea. In August 2014, she arrived in China and then stayed in Laos for a month. She finally reached South Korea in October that same year. Now, living in South Korea, she is willing to learn Chinese to help North Koreans to escape and has also formulated plans of improving her English skills to study in the United States or Canada.

While talking with me, what she mainly revealed was her hopeful future, not her bleak life in North Korea. One of the similarities between us was that we were both interested in education. When she was in elementary school, she studied twelve subjects; Korean history, Korean language, math, science and biology; science and biology were separated. In school, she received only two textbooks. During four years in elementary school and six years in middle school, students learn English for the first time in the 4th grade, unlike South Koreans who start English classes at second grade elementary school. This slow start in English causes North Koreans feel behind when they learn English in South Korea. To solve this academic gap, a systematic educational program only for North Korean students with governmental support is essential. This program will focus on English education to help the students follow the same class level of a South Korean regular school after finishing the program.

If reunification is ever achieved, she would like to teach orphans. We must establish schools that guarantee students’ rights and let them study as much as they desire and develop their own dreams. A time when people spend their lives, not working for survival, hut paving a way for themselves is what she looks forward to.

People have different standards of success. Someone wants to earn more money and gain fame, while another simply wants to have his own family. Yeeun's success is “to live a happy life.” She wants to show others that people from North Korea can also "succeed" and live life to the fullest. I do hope that her dream comes true; I wish her a bright future.