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Defector's story

Defector leaps hurdles, reaches new heights in business world

Kim Ji Seung  |  2017-07-14 15:26

It remains no secret that there are now 30,000 North Korean defectors residing in South Korea, and that some are finding it difficult to adjust to South Korean society. However, many are hoping that their efforts, driven by a sense of responsibility as a 'preview of unification,' will help set the stage for a future unified Korean peninsula.

To better understand the successes and difficulties experienced by defectors in the process of settlement, Unification Media Group is publishing a series of accounts by defectors, covering their experiences in employment, establishing businesses, and studying, as well as documenting stories where success has remained out of reach.

Ms. Kang arrived in South Korea in 2013. She is now in her third year working for a company in a network security and IT position. Her role is to protect official communications networks from hacking attacks by strengthening cyber security measures. She is second in command for the companys security, but had to work her way up as a new employee and a North Korean defector. Ms. Kang came to South Korea in her mid-20s and initially felt a sense of insecurity about her future. She knew how radically different the South was, and so began to think about which personal strengths she could possibly offer such an advanced nation as South Korea. 

From the time she first landed in the South and underwent resettlement education at the Hanawon facility, she thought, South Korea is an IT powerhouse, so no matter what I do, Ill need to be able to use the internet. So she set out to earn a computer education certificate. After 10 months at Hanawon, she earned several different certificates and then aimed for her next goal: to use these skills at a South Korean tech company. She began by enrolling in a computer training class, which she stumbled on by blind luck. Fortunately, the particular training class she had found specialized in networks.  

However, it was hard going from the very first class. Ms. Kang could hardly understand what the lecturer was talking about. One reason for that difficulty is that computer-related terminology is often in English. But she believed that there was nothing she couldnt accomplish through hard work. After three months of classes, she began to get the hang of it, due in part to her habit of studying extra each day. Within a short time, she attained enough skills to apply for a job. 

Breaking through prejudice towards North Korean defectors

One year after starting, Ms. Kangs computer teacher said that she would gladly write a recommendation letter for her, as she had attained all the relevant qualifications. Ms. Kang looked back on a long period of intense work and felt a keen sense of satisfaction. 

But it was not easy for her to land a job. Ms. Kang was able to proceed through the various levels of the hiring process, but she often found companies reluctant to hire a North Korean defector. This process repeated itself for three months until Ms. Kang finally found a place that would hire her. She felt thrilled, as she felt she had broken through stereotypes about North Koreans and worked hard to achieve the necessary qualifications. However, after starting her work, she encountered an unexpected problem. One client, who had spoken with her on the phone, remarked that her accent made it sound as if she was engaging in voice phishing: a form of scam over the phone aimed at stealing money or private information. Other customers asked why a Chinese-Korean was running network security for a company.   

At the time, many South Koreans had indeed fallen victim to voice phishing scams run by cartels based in China. The company even received civil complaints. Ms. Kang was determined to change her accent to overcome the problem, but it was not east to suddenly change the way she had been speaking for 30 years. When she felt depressed, she sometimes turned to alcohol. However, after 3 years, people became more open to the fact that Ms. Kang came from North Korea and empathized with her. There was also some tension when she first began, but now her colleagues have seen that she is a sincere and a hard worker. 

Education is the key to defector success 

Ms. Kang believes that education is South Koreas strongest asset. Classes can even be taken online, with a diverse range of topics available. She believes that the public education system is good, but the private sector offerings are also very high quality, and are the key to helping defectors overcome their fears and adjust to a radically different environment. 

Rather than giving defectors money, its better to use that money to help find a job for them, Ms. Kang explained. She believes that helping defectors to help themselves by creating opportunities in the working world is an idea that needs greater attention. This would give defectors, especially those who never worked professionally while living in the North, a sense of accomplishment and help guide them towards independence.    

Ms. Kang is now setting her sights on a new adventure. She plans to combine the social experience that she has garnered together with her three years in network security to start her own business. 

*This article has been brought to you thanks to support from the Korea Press Foundation.
 
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2017.12.14
Won Pyongyang Sinuiju Hyesan
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