Educational Struggles of Young North Korean Defectors in South Korea
Mentor:Kurt Meyer, Professor of English, Irvine Valley College
Over the last decade, approximately 300,000 North Koreans have attempted to escape systemic starvation, abject poverty, and brutal imprisonment under the reign of Kim Jong-il, and have sought a new life in South Korea. Unfortunately, only 8% of them successfully found refuge in South Korea. What they found in the south, however, was extreme difficulty in obtaining a university education and, consequently, finding work. Young North Korean defectors struggle to achieve a university education because of three principal reasons: they lack secondary education, suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as defectors, and are subject to widespread discrimination by South Koreans. More specifically, 93.4% of North Korean defectors lack high school education due to their long term, life-threatening vagabondage in China during school age. Therefore, North Koreans fall behind South Korean classmates who had already completed several years of competitive education. Additionally, 38.7% of North Korean defectors aging from 17 to 30 experience PTSD from their memories of witnessing murder, being tortured by the tyrannical government, and feeling guilty for leaving their families behind and at risk. Continuous anger and depression interrupt their academic pursuits. Finally, South Korean classmates marginalize them for their northern accent and small stature caused by malnutrition. Shunned by schoolmates and society, these refugees give up their academic pursuits. To address these problems, South Korea ought to help young North Koreans defectors regain their chance to pursue academic study because doing so promotes equal human rights, enhances South Korea’s economy, and ultimately serves as a good faith gesture toward reunification of the Korean peninsula. To these ends, the South Korean government should expand local education and job training, provide mental health services, and work to change the South Koreans’ perspective toward North Korean defectors.