North Koreans come from a society that is significantly behind the economic, technological, and social progress of South Korea. North Koreans we work with have often said that coming to South Korea was like stepping out of a time machine into a version of Korean society in the future. This is understandable because in many ways North Korean society resembles South Korean society in the 1960s.
South Korea has gone through massive economic development, the effects of embracing globalization, and democratization over the last several decades, while the North Korean people have been held back from these changes by the regime. Therefore, many North Koreans arrive in South Korea lacking skills that are important for success in a modern, open economy.
Working knowledge of computers is needed for study and many jobs in South Korea, but most North Koreans have never even touched a computer.
It’s uncommon for North Korean refugees to have studied much English in North Korea. In contrast, English-language skills are necessary for many academic courses and professions in South Korea. South Koreans also frequently use loan-words from English, which can be unfamiliar and frustrating to North Koreans.
Many vocational skills that North Koreans have when they escape don’t match South Korean standards, so it’s often necessary to retrain and recertify before working in South Korea. For example, a doctor would need to requalify in South Korea in order to practice medicine after resettling.
GENERAL LIFE CHALLENGES
Aspects of modern society that we take for granted—like using an ATM, shopping in a supermarket, and riding public transit—can be difficult for North Koreans to adjust to shortly after resettling.
North Korean culture has different standards for communication and social interaction. For instance, North Koreans are often direct in their language which can sound aggressive to South Koreans, and North Koreans are more relaxed about timeliness than South Koreans. This can cause misunderstandings for North Koreans and make it difficult to integrate.