Thinking back on her kindergarten days, Sung Joo couldn’t help but to smile. She remembered how much fun she had going to school and how she used to fight with her sister everyday over whose turn it was to wear their favorite dress. Unfortunately, the happy, carefree days were not long run. In elementary school, Sung Joo would go to visit her peers who had quit coming to school, only to find children whose faces were swollen due to starvation. At the time, completely unaware of widespread famine, she was told to keep her mouth shut and her head down and everything would be okay. As the years went on, Sung Joo did not realize the problems happening around her—living most of her life with little to eat, she did not know that there was more to be expected from life. That is until she started watching television shows coming from China and South Korea. “That is when reality set in and my thoughts changed,” she said.
When Sung Joo was in high school, her father was hurt while operating heavy machinery and ended up losing a lot of blood. Her family had to spend every last penny they had in order for her father to be seen by a doctor, but the treatment was not enough to save him. Sung Joo’s life became even more scary and unstable after losing her father. Her family started growing vegetables in their backyard for food and raising livestock in secret. All the while, she would compare her life to the videos she watched and think, “Why do I have to live like this? Am I this worthless?”
Sung Joo’s life made a sudden turn when she made a new friend who had lived with a missionary family in China. He connected her with a Korean living in China, who told Sung Joo that if she was ready for a new life, he would pay for her to cross the border. She made it across the Tumen river, carried on the back of her new friend, and was safely transported to an orphanage in China where she lived for almost 10 years.
Sung Joo felt so happy to live in a place where she could learn and take up hobbies such as piano and guitar, but the fear of repatriation grew stronger and stronger everyday. After hearing stories of raids, and even encountering the police herself, she knew she could never live a full life as long as she stayed in China. She reached out to the man who first helped her cross into China, and he helped connect her to LiNK’s network.
Although Sung Joo has no family or friends waiting to reconnect with her, she could not be more happy or excited to resettle in South Korea. Sung Joo wishes to attend university as quickly as possible and wants to major in piano, which she first learned only a year before leaving China. She also wants to study baking, with the hopes of one day being able to open a music cafe of her own.