N.Korean Defectors Ill Prepared to Face S.Korean Society

      March 25, 2015 08:00

      North Korean defector Lee Se-hoon (24) underwent mandatory resettlement training at the Unification Ministry's Hanawon and is preparing to enter university in South Korea. "I received three months of training at Hanawon, but nothing I learned was of use in the outside world," Lee said. "The things we were taught were so impractical that we had a tough time doing things by ourselves later," he added. "I learned more on my own in a week in the outside world than what I was taught during my three months at Hanawon."

      Defector Kim Gwang-hyuk (29), said, "At Hanawon, we are taught that we could make between W3 million to W5 million a month if we work hard (US$1=W1,116)." Kim added, "We end up with false hopes that we will be able to bring our remaining family members over from the North if we work for two to three months, but those dreams are dashed once we encounter reality."

      All North Korean defectors undergo a three-month background check at a shelter run by the National Intelligence Service and receive three months of resettlement training at Hanawon where they eat and sleep. They learn about democracy and free-market economics, as well as how to shop in supermarkets and other living tips. They also receive rudimentary training on how to bake bread and handle computers. Hanawon is the gateway to the outside world for defectors.

      But many defectors complain that the training is too textbook-oriented and useless. One defector said, "The lectures are filled with English terms and other specialized jargon so we have no idea what we are learning and end up dozing off." The defector added, "The guest lecturers have no idea of our level of language and ends up teaching things that we cannot grasp."

      Defectors are taught to type in Korean using computers. But they are denied access to the Internet due to security concerns. That leads to most defectors graduating without knowing how to search the Internet for information or send e-mails. Kim Gwang-hyuk said, "Hanawon is closed off from the outside world so it is difficult for us to get hands-on training. The job training is cursory, while on-site training lasts just two days."

      Each defector comes from different parts of North Korea and they also differ in terms of their level of education and length of stay in China before arriving in South Korea. But hundreds of them attend the same classes at Hanawon. Kim said, "It's extremely inefficient to have people from such different backgrounds study and live together in one space."

      Others complain that the three-month training is too short. Chae Eun-kyung (50), another defector, said, "We are too stressed out about repaying brokers who brought us here and thinking about the loved ones we left behind and nothing they teach us really remains in our memory."

      Defectors can receive additional training at a regional facility near their new homes in South Kore, of which there are six. As a result, critics say that defectors really don't need to undergo the lengthy training by Hanawon for three months. Regional facilities can teach defectors how to create their ID cards, sign apartment leases, buy mobile phones and open their own bank accounts. They also offer legal, financial and medical advice. And defectors seem to prefer this hands-on type of training.

      Defectors also complained about the bureaucratic attitudes and aloofness of Hanawon staff.

      Experts said government workers should not be allowed to determine what defectors learn, while North Korea specialists and other experts should participate in formulating more practical training programs.

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