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Challenges of North Korean Refugees in South Korea

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‘My Escape from North Korea’, a speech by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector, and activist, describes a North Korean’s experience as a refugee and the challenges she faced while settling in South Korea. The famine in the 1990s forced countless to escape from North Korea despite risking their lives. Today, North Korean refugees have settled down in various countries, notably South Korea. In a new environment, North Korean refugees are prompted to face physiological and psychological challenges such as adapting to the culture and finding their own identities.

One of the many challenges North Koreans face is the adaption to the cultural norm in South Korea. Being separated for nearly 70 years, the use of language, religion, technology and even the eating regimen between the North and South Koreans contrast significantly. The North and South Korean cultures consist of different degrees of communication and social interactions. For instance, North Koreans are known to be direct in their speech and utilize unadulterated Korean dialect in their discussions. On the other hand, South Koreans are exposed to global languages and practice a verbose and courteous communication style. This significant contrast can ignite conflicts between the two and makes it difficult for the North Korean refugees to integrate into the South Korean society. Lee expressed that when she began settling down in South Korea, she had to learn English, a language that was not accentuated by the North Korean government. North Koreans who are more conservative would also have to acclimatize to the miniskirts worn by South Korean K-pop girl groups and the lively music that is uncommon to hear in the North. Conclusively, the cultural difference might compel North Korean refugees to depose their former cultural preferences in order to acculturate in their new surroundings.

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Another great challenge for North Korean refugees is the identity crisis. Identity crisis causes refugees to feel insecure about their own identity and causes them to lose the sense of belonging. It is devastating for refugees to encounter such a challenge because aside from a few belongings, they are only left with an intrinsic sense of identity and culture. Lee experienced a similar crisis as a young refugee in South Korea. She explained how she constantly inquires whether she is a North Korean, or a South Korean in her early years as a refugee. Life can be much tougher for the younger refugees. As they traverse this crucial and defining period in their lives, they too have to cope with the surrounding changes, such as the education system and the South Korean capitalist society. Some young refugees may tend to conceal or suppress their North Korean identity because they felt ostracized by their South Korean classmates and perceive that their status in South Korea is a stigma. Hence, it is clear that North Korean refugees face conflicts with their sense of identity as they are labeled with a fragmented identity and are not completely adapting to the South Korean society.

In conclusion, North Korean refugees confront various resettlement issues and challenges in South Korea, depending on various factors of an individual such as age, gender, one’s resilience and social abilities. The challenges and obstacles that they encounter in South Korea hinder them from advancing with their new lives. Efforts ought to be made by the South Korean government and its citizens to aid these refugees in adapting and asserting their status in South Korea.

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Challenges of North Korean Refugees in South Korea. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/challenges-of-north-korean-refugees-in-south-korea/
“Challenges of North Korean Refugees in South Korea.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/challenges-of-north-korean-refugees-in-south-korea/
Challenges of North Korean Refugees in South Korea. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/challenges-of-north-korean-refugees-in-south-korea/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Challenges of North Korean Refugees in South Korea [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/challenges-of-north-korean-refugees-in-south-korea/
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