In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

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In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.

Kim Kyeong-il, using cellphone, is president of a support group for North Korean-born students at Yonsei University in Seoul.

But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.

“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.

Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.

The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.

“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.” Continue reading

In the News – North Korea leader spent nine years in Switzerland: reports

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In the News – North Korea leader spent nine years in Switzerland: reports

State media film North Korea leader Kim Jong-un (L) waving to soldiers and civilians during a ceremony at a stadium in Pyongyang April 14, 2012, one day before the centenary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung on Sunday. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

(Reuters) – North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un spent more of his childhood being educated under a pseudonym in Switzerland than originally thought, Swiss newspapers reported on Sunday.

Jong-un first travelled to Switzerland in 1991, aged eight or nine, rather than in 1998 as has previously been established, Le Matin Dimanche and the SonntagsZeitung reported, citing official Swiss police documents.

Little is known about the leader of the reclusive communist state, who took over from the late Kim Jong-il last year, not even his exact age.

Local education director Ueli Studer told Reuters in December that a boy known as Pak Un, registered as the child of a North Korean embassy employee, had attended a school in Berne from 1998 until late 2000.

School friends have identified Pak Un as Kim Jong-un and Swiss newspapers say they have proven – through a scientific comparison of a school photo and current pictures of the North Korean leader – that the two were one in the same.

On Sunday, the newspapers said it was not clear where the boy had gone to school between 1991 and 1998.

Berne’s international school has declined to comment on whether he attended that school, where his older brother reportedly spent some time.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that the fact that Kim Jong-un had lived outside North Korea might mean he would change political course despite his country’s recent rocket launch and the threat of a new nuclear test.

 

Original article can be found here.

Hangyeorae Boarding School

James—standing at the border between darkness and a new day?

An hour to the south of Seoul there is a boarding school attended exclusively by North Korean defectors.

It’s a modernist-looking building set back in the mountains, about fifteen minutes away from nowhere. Middle and high school students attend. I have spent a fair amount of time in other schools in Korea, and this one feels completely different. Not least in design: although South Korea seems to have hired the exact same architect to draft all of its other public schools, this school follows a different paradigm, with massive gray concrete forming twin north and south buildings, divided by a four-story open-air hallway that creates a deep gulf between them; but the buildings are joined by the congress of these high school kids going back and forth between them, the whole thing a potent architectural metaphor for the Korean peninsula.

But, beyond design, the general spirit of the place is very different from other schools I’ve seen. This school felt remarkable. Continue reading