Michael recently escaped North Korea with his wife (Donna) and young daughter (Isabel). Throughout his childhood, he struggled with hunger and hardship. He often remembered asking his older sister for help, but even though she wanted to provide, she herself hardly had enough food to survive. Tired and frustrated at the lack of freedom, poor living conditions, and the constant surveillance of the government, he decided to take the risk and leave with his family. Although Michael has family members who have already settled in both South Korea and the United States, he decided he would like to go to America for his daughter. Michael is in his late thirties and is currently using his time in the shelter, as he awaits resettlement, to learn English, play ping-pong and hone his culinary skills.
UPDATE: July 2013!
Michael has resettled in the United States as he had hoped to do for so long! He is currently working at a Japanese restaurant as a cook and also plans to take on a second job. One thing he says he has learned while in the US is that one can make a living by working hard. With his wages, he was able to purchase a car, a computer, internet plan, cellular phone, and other necessities!
Michael is still struggling with the language barrier and though he doesn’t have the time to take classes, he tries his best to learn English at home after work. He studies independently by browsing the internet and using an online dictionary. He hopes that he will be able to take classes after he becomes a permanent resident.
Donna escaped North Korea along with her husband (Michael) and their two year old daughter (Isabel). Although she was sad to leave her other family members behind, especially her father, she decided that “living like animals” was no way to live one’s life. Donna’s uncle was executed in public for selling electric wires to feed himself and his family. Their family was never able to give him a proper burial because his body was thrown away with local trash after the execution. To this day, she says she cannot forgive the government for what it has done. In North Korea, punishment for a crime does not just affect the perpetrator, the whole extended family suffers too. Donna was infamous in her town because everyone knew what her uncle had done. As a result, Donna and her family could never advance in society and in their community, and they suffered under constant government inspections. Tired of the lack of political and personal freedom, she decided to finally leave in the hopes of seeking a better life for her family and herself. She has feelings of guilt and sadness for the family she has left behind, but she plans to work hard to bring them out of North Korea and hopefully reunite with them one day. During her time in the shelter, as she awaits resettlement, she enjoys learning English, having dance classes, and spending lots of time playing with her daughter.