Ken Eom, who was a soldier in the People’s Army, defected from the North Korea in 2010. He eventually arrived in Seoul after seeking asylum at the South Korean Embassy in Thailand.
But his problems were far from over. “Prejudice is most difficult to cope with. In South Korea news, there’s a stereotype of North Korea associated with violence or communist totalitarianism,” Eom said, describing how the media affects local perceptions of his birthplace.
Other problems persist because defectors new to the South lack knowledge of the basic workings of a capitalist society and struggle with English, which has been adapted to the South Korean vernacular. These and other setbacks result in a loss of confidence among defectors who become resigned to feelings of inferiority and try to hide their identity, Eom said.
But the former North Korean soldier said he resolved problems by stepping out of the fear zone and seeking help with everyday issues. “When I began telling people I’m from North Korea and opening up, people around me became a source of help,” Eom said.
A new program allows participants to speak out about North Korea and overcome the stigma of their identity. It’s not easy, though, for North Koreans to speak out after living under an authoritarian regime, that avoidance of the limelight continues in South Korea, where defectors don’t feel motivated to attract attention.