North Korean defectors sometimes struggle to adjust to new life in South Korea
This year marks seventy years since North Korea invaded South Korea, igniting the Korean War. There is still no peace treaty – just a truce that left North Korea's repressive Kim family in power.
Over the decades, more than 30,000 defectors have escaped through China, some paying thousands of dollars to brokers. They come to South Korea hoping for a new beginning, but as Barry Petersen reports from Seoul, adjusting to life there is not always easy.
North Koreans are accustomed to food shortages in their home country. When they successfully make it to South Korea, they are sometimes overwhelmed by the abundance they encounter.
Hannah Song, who runs an NGO called "Liberty in North Korea" from an office in Long Beach, California, told Petersen that some defectors say coming to South Korea is like getting in a time machine and fast forwarding 60 years.
Song said one defector she met "froze" when he encountered a buffet – "not only overwhelmed just by the abundance of food but by the abundance of choice."
"He ended up simply eating rice and leaving," she said.
Back in North Korea, propaganda of Kim Jong Un instills a cult of the supreme leader into the heads of every child.
"A lot of young North Koreans who come to South Korea and want to study will say how frustrated they are because so much of what they had to learn in North Korea was about stories of the Kim family," Song said. "And they are like 'what a waste of brain space'… and it puts them on this incredible unlevel playing field."
Jung Gwang Il fights back against the regime from his kitchen table with a laptop and flash drives where he dubs over movies and TV shows. The flash drives then go into plastic bottles and are tossed into the river that flows north, to be picked up by North Korean fishermen who sell them as a much-sought commodity.
Jung Gwang Il spent three years in a political prison camp on espionage charges. "I defected holding great hostility towards the North Korean regime," he said.
Some defectors will never adjust, never become a part of South Korea's high-tech, hurried society. But still, they come.
Song said there are parallels between what American immigrants face and what defectors from North Korea face when they flee south.
"Just like my parents came here and made an incredible amount of sacrifice so that my brothers and I could live here, could grow up here, and have all the privilege and opportunity that we have … it is the exact same for North Koreans," she said.
"They may struggle, but for their children that will grow up, that may be born there ... their lives will be significantly different."
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