Joy's Story: Part 3 - A Difficult Decision

December 17, 2019

Read parts one and two of Joy's story that detail her life in North Korea and how she was sold as a bride in China.

When I started living with the Chinese man I was sold to, I thought of escaping after six months. I just did what the Chinese man wanted without thinking about birth-control—I never had proper sex education. Two months later, he and his family took me to a hospital for a pregnancy test. I was pregnant. I am so sorry to my daughter for this, but after I got pregnant was so miserable and I felt like I was stuck in this situation because of the baby. I knew that I couldn’t escape until I gave birth to my daughter and raised her for a while. I was not happy, but the Chinese man and his family were. I am very sorry to my daughter for how I felt about having her back then, but the pregnancy was not what I wanted and I didn’t love the Chinese man. I actually tried to abort the baby by jumping down from a high tree many times but it didn’t happen.

I ended up having a daughter and raised her for two years before I escaped.


When I was still raising my daughter and living with the Chinese man and I was losing hope about my life, the North Korean broker who sold me into marriage got back to me and introduced me to some people who later connected me to LiNK’s network. She told me that she felt really bad for selling me to the Chinese man but she had to do it to survive in China as a North Korean herself. When she told me about going to South Korea and life there, I felt like that was my last chance to have my life back again. At that point, I was no longer breastfeeding and my baby had started to talk, so I thought the Chinese man’s parents could take care of her. I decided to leave for South Korea.

I was so sad to leave my two-year-old daughter in China.

Before I left, I thought of taking her with me, but she was still very young and I was not sure if I was going to make it to South Korea safely so I didn't want to risk her life.

To this day I feel guilty and sorry about having left her so I could have freedom and better life. I know my daughter has been hurt a lot by my leaving.


Before I started moving to get out of China I stayed with some other defectors before I got connected to LiNK's network. At the time, I cried every day thinking of my daughter. Even when I was sleeping in the house, I kept waking up to see if my little daughter was sleeping well on my arm and realized that she was not with me anymore.

I didn't want to cry in front of other defectors, so I cried behind a curtain and I found another North Korean woman crying there because she also left her child. We ended up hugging each other and crying together.

Since I resettled to South Korea a few years ago, I have been talking with my daughter through online video calls as often as possible. She is doing well and is now in elementary school, but I can tell she has been so hurt by my absence in her life. It breaks my heart when she asks me why I am not with her. Whenever there is homework about family or whenever her teacher asks her to bring her mom, she gets so sad and I feel so helpless and remorseful. I plan to visit her in China on one of my summer breaks from college.

It is so ironic because I was so hurt a lot by my mom for leaving me and my family when I was a little kid and I did the same thing to my own daughter.

Now I understand why my mom had to make such a decision...Hopefully there will be a day my daughter can understand and forgive me.

The Red Box: Misunderstandings and Stereotypes about North Koreans

July 1, 2020

For North Korean refugees, resettling in a new society comes with many challenges. One of these challenges is overcoming the stereotypes about North Korea and the North Korean people.

In the latest episode of The Red Box, our North Korean friends and 2019 LiNK Advocacy Fellows talk about the struggle of of facing stereotypes after resettling in South Korea.

Watch as Jeongyol, Joy, Dasom, and Ilhyeok answer your questions in The Red Box Series!

Read the transcript of this episode below!

All: Welcome to the Red Box!


Are there any misunderstandings about the North Korean people that make you feel uncomfortable?

Ilhyeok: Misunderstandings?

Joy: When I first came to South Korea, was working part-time at a convenience store. I was still very young and had a very heavy North Korean accent.

In South Korea, when a customer enters the part-time employees don't really greet them. But I used to greet the customers standing and say "Welcome!" so people would ask me where I'm from.

I'd tell them that I'm from North Korea. They'd say "oh really?" After they get their stuff and put them on the counter, they'd asked me if I ever had jjajangmyun or pork in North Korea? They'd ask me these types of questions. Some people ask because  they don't know but sometimes they ask questions that insinuate that we were all so poor in North Korea. Not everyone in North Korea is like that. There's people who live well too

Jeongyol: If someone asked me that, I’d tell them I might've lived a wealthier life there [in North Korea].

Joy: So those types of questions made me feel a little uncomfortable.

Jeongyol: A lot of people think like that.

Dasom: People think that all North Koreans are poor, ignorant, and uneducated. People have told me that even though I must have starved and lived poorly in North Korea, I don't look the part.

Maybe some people did or didn't have enough food to eat. There are poor people and there are rich people too. Every country is the same — it’s the same in South Korea too. There are rich, poor, and homeless people in South Korea too. I don't think it's right to judge someone like that. It made me feel very uncomfortable

Jeongyol: When I was in high school, there was a soccer match between North Korea and South Korea. But all of a sudden they asked me which team I'm cheering for. So I was startled by the question.

Should I say I'm cheering for North Korea or South Korea? What's my identity?

Even though I'm living in South Korea as a South Korean citizen, they didn't recognize the fact that I'm also South Korean. That we were the same people.

So at the time I answered, "I'm not cheering for either team. I don't care who wins. I’m just watching the game for fun.” It went over smoothly but afterward I kept thinking about it. But now that I think about it…It wasn't my choice to be born in North Korea.

Dasom: Right

Jeongyol: I could've been born in the U.S. but somehow I was born in North Korea.

Anyone could've been born in North Korea.

It's not anyone's fault. So from that moment on, I became confident. I am just who I am.

Ilhyeok: I have this older friend from China. During holidays like in January, he'd always ask me if I am visiting my hometown. Whenever he asks me that question, I want to be able to tell him that I'm am going [home] but I can't because I can't go back so I just don’t answer him. When he asked me if I'm going home, I just wished that I could return home one day.

It's heartbreaking not being able to go home.

During Chuseok and New Year's Day, those two holidays are when I miss home the most.

Joy: One uncomfortable question for me was when I was in school or met people was when they asked me why there's no riot or uprising in North Korea. Sometimes people ask because they really don't know but sometimes they insinuate that we're cowards.

And with that viewpoint, they ask why we won't revolt against the government. I try to explain but they still insist and say, ”But you guys still should have done something.” That makes me a little sad.

In North Korea, there's a system of monitoring each other. So if one person says something bad, they'd get reported right away and taken.

Jeongyol: In South Korea there were a lot of civil riots so they ask why we didn't do anything in North Korea.

Joy: But it's a very different situation.

Jeongyol: The system doesn't allow it.


What also made me uncomfortable was if I did something wrong, people would blame it because I'm North Korean.

They say things like, “It's because she's North Korean.” That made me upset. Other people say bad things and make mistakes too. But because of one mistake they say all North Koreans are like that and that I wouldn't know things or be able to do things because I'm from North Korea.

I hated hearing that so I wouldn't tell anyone that I was from North Korea.

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