photo credit: https://www.nknews.org/2015/07/what-hanawon-doesnt-teach-north-korean-defectors

Images of North Korea circulating on the web give a glimpse of the hardships commoners face there; a few succeed to flee to the developed South seeking a better life. Curious to know how escapees adapt to new life in South Korea I came across a youtube video, where the two interviewed mention Hanawon (하나원 means House of Unity in Korean). Reading some articles, I was ambivalent about this settlement support centre, which by 2009 had trained nearly 90% of the 16,000 defectors in South Korea (Glionna, 2009). This blog post thus is dedicated to what I have unearthed wondering how Hanawon copes with “easing the socioeconomic and psychological anxiety of North Korean defectors; overcoming the barriers of cultural heterogeneity; and offering practical training for earning a livelihood in the South” (Demick, 2010, p. 249). 

Judging from defectors’ feedback online, the three-month training at Hanawon tries to help them deal with socioeconomic and psychological anxiety. The new citizens receive special treatment including cheap accommodation, settlement funds of ₩20 million ($18670) and ₩320,000 ($300) as a monthly allowance for five years (Song, 2004). Such support serves as an airbag to escapees when adjusting to a new society. Financial aid is all the more necessary given that in 2008 75% of almost 600 residents at the centre suffered from depression or other mental problems, which is likely to take a toll on their earning capacity (Glionna, 2009). While the struggling certainly receive counselling to relieve psychological anxiety, the centre’s exterior appears disturbing. The school buildings in a secluded area patrolled by dozens of guards remind me of a prison than a good educational institution. On top of that, intelligence agents grill residents in an attempt to weed out spies (Glionna, 2009). I can imagine all the stress they go through. Are the new South Koreans able to start a new life with the way Hanawon reeducates them?


photo credit: http://newssh.tistory.com/692

The answer lies in the measures taken to help defectors adapt to the very different culture of South Korea. Within the three-month crash course residents also develop basic skills to survive in the capitalist society: they learn to use buses, ATMs and computers and they learn the standard (Seoul) Korean language (Glionna, 2009). The knowledge absorbed at Hanawon is crucial to get by considering the contrast in modernity between the North and the South. Yet it does not suffice to make the new South Koreans feel welcome and equal. Many of them have complained how harsh of a world to live in the society turned out to be. The locals are extremely individualistic. It is a characteristic so foreign to the Northern counterparts, those indoctrinated with socialistic values. It further widens the gap and adds to the discrimination the defectors face. They already get labelled as traitors and spies (Onishi, 2006). Of course, many would say it is not the duty of Hanawon to spoon-feed the newcomers, but I think the latter at least deserve to get a taste of reality before entering the society (Kang, 2015). They deserve not only to hear about a few success stories of North Koreans, but also to know of the walls the majority of North Koreans face.

Having success in the capitalist society is important. But far more important is not being a failure. I hope that Hanawon provides more realistic and practical education and training for newly arrived North Koreans.

Kang, 2015

One of those walls is the matter of employment. Few companies hire North Koreans (Onishi, 2006). Many defectors despite being just as skilled as the locals resort to part-time jobs and low-tier professions. How is Hanawon supposed to tackle it?! Well, I think they should be honest with the residents and tell them what is to be anticipated. More practical skills related to job-hunting would be appreciated. At this moment, you might realize the scale of the problem is appalling; the society as a whole mainly rejects the defectors and it is high time for it to change or to at least be more tolerant. Still, Hanawon is partly to blame since it lets the “students” set unrealistic expectations. The students think of South Korea as of a paradise after the hell they fleed from. 

In short, I inadvertently think of how similar Hanawon is to the schools we attend. We are often taught only about the successful cases, not failures. Being honest would help a lot. Hopefully, Hanawon is taking notes and developing its format of procedures to better re-educate the new South Koreans. North Koreans deserve all the best as they start a new chapter in their lives. 




  1. Intriguing post on a little-discussed topic. You have uncovered some interesting findings and present them in a easy-to-digest and meaningful way. Thanks for sharing your work!
    A couple grammar points (practice makes perfect!):
    Curious to know how escapees adapt… (Missing a subject and verb “I am…”)
    fleed = fled

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback!
      The sentence is “Curious to know how escapees adapt to new life in South Korea I came across a youtube video”, so isn’t the first part playing the role of a determiner?


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