Defectors spend up to three months in Seoul learning the history of the Korean Peninsula, and basic life skills like how to use an ATM and shop for groceries. Many defectors are drastically behind in education, as North Korea emphasizes propaganda over skills like reading and math. Defectors can be unprepared for things Hanawon doesn’t teach, such as understanding South Korea’s ultra-competitive social structure.
“After making it to Mongolia, we flew to South Korea,” recalls North Korean defector Yeon Mi Park. “They put us into a place called Hanawon Resettlement.
“Everyone thinks that once you escape, once you arrive in the land of freedom, people think that’s the end of the story, everyone is fine and happy, but that’s not [the case].
“The suicide rate among North Korean defectors in South Korea is three times higher than South Koreans, and South Korea [already] is one of the most high-suicide-rate countries.
“I fought for my freedom. It was not given to me, but I fought for it. So, I want the North Korean defectors struggling in South Korea [to realize] that you should be very proud of yourself, and don’t listen to anyone say that you are not enough, that you are different, you are not going to win. You are the winner already.”