Chloe, a North Korean defector now living in Seoul, wants to be an advertising manager and needs to learn English for that to happen. While most South Koreans already learn or are engaged in advanced English studies, it is rare for North Koreans to understand English. They are told what they will learn at university, or what career they will undertake. Chloe said while school was free in her homeland, many people bribed teachers for extra tutoring or to learn what they needed. She said her memories of North Korea were mostly happy but her mother’s decision to escape was based on wanting a better life for them.
For Jenna, another defector, the one thing she misses most is the grandmother who raised her, following the death of her father and the defection of her mother. She knows she is unlikely to ever see her grandmother again. “I really miss my grandmother,” Jenna said, admitting she found aspects of life on the south side of the 38th parallel hard. “South Korea has many academies and people study all the time.”
Many North Koreans faced discrimination and once in South Korea are stuck in poverty unable to get better qualifications or a job due to the highly competitive education and job markets. English was just one of the minimum requirements needed to succeed.
Associate Professor Bronwen Dalton, from the University of Technology, Sydney, says defectors learn some South Koreans view their northern neighbors as a burden. “They are not seen as working as hard or they are not as refined or can’t be trusted,” she said.