Thirty college students, all defectors living in Seoul, sat in a classroom working on personal narratives, participants in a writing program run by the North Korea Strategy Center, a nonprofit that aims to increase awareness about them and what their experience is like.
Ga Eul, a peppy, English-speaking 23-year-old with dyed brown hair and purple glasses, began her essay this way: ” Until [I defected], my education consisted of learning how to worship Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jung-Il.” As a middle-schooler, Ga Eul dreamed of becoming a math teacher. But when Ga Eul’s extended relatives were caught trying to escape from North Korea, she wrote, “My dream of becoming a math teacher was not possible anymore. My family members were branded enemies of the state.” Ga Eul was told that she wouldn’t be able to join the military—a key step to getting good jobs in North Korea—and neither would her children.
Another defector explains, “In North Korea, people tend to sleep early due to electricity shortages. In the evening, the whole town turns into a jet-black night without a single light.”
A female defector says that when she arrived in South Korea, she assumed that the heaps of rice and hard-boiled eggs that greeted her at the defector integration center were some sort of propagandistic joke.
Another student wrote about his first time on Seoul’s gleaming subway: “I didn’t know where to direct my eyes! There were girls in hot shorts seemingly no different than panties. My cheeks flushed red and my eyes lost focus.”