Jin Kyung escaped North Korea after experiencing her own modern-day Cinderella story. Her parents divorced when she was still young, and for a short time she lived comfortably with her father, but when her father remarried a year later, Jin Kyung’s life took a turn for the worse. Her father often worked away from home, leaving her alone with her stepmother, who scolded and punished her every day. Resolving to find a better life for herself, she escaped to China.
Jin Kyung was sold soon after crossing the border, but the family she had been sold into showed kindness and love to her. Unlike many women who are sold, she was allowed to come and go as she pleased. She came to be fond of the Chinese man and his parents. However, Jin Kyung wasn’t ready to settle for a life as an illegal immigrant in China despite being grateful for a happy home. Her new family helped coordinate her escape to South Korea, which she admits is not a common occurrence. After resettling in South Korea, she attended school and eventually reunited with the Chinese man, who is now her husband. They have a four-month-old son together and she’s currently a stay-at-home mom.
Our resettlement coordinator Anna visited with Jin Kyung and her son recently to see how they’re doing.
Anna: What was the best thing that happened to you recently?
Jin Kyung: I’m grateful for every day for numerous reasons. It especially warms my heart to see my baby smiling, although taking care of him is sometimes physically demanding. My husband and I talked about having a second, but I’m not sure if I can handle it if I start attending college. In fact, I also passed the GED this past April and just submitted two college applications yesterday as a hair design and make-up artist major.
Anna: What’s your biggest challenge in South Korea?
Jin Kyung: Raising a child is very challenging and sometimes tiring, but I enjoy it so much and want to have a second one as soon as possible.
After I got out of Hanawon and for a few months after that, I felt so lost and clueless.
Anna: How did you overcome the challenge?
Jin Kyung: Although many people recommended for me to go back to school, I only wanted to earn money to send to my family in North Korea. I soon found a job at a factory, but realized that there’s a limitation to the types of careers that I can pursue if I don’t get a proper education. I realized what my priority should be after working in a labor-intensive job at the factory.
Anna: Who has been the biggest help (outside of LiNK) to you since you arrived in South Korea?
Jin Kyung: A teacher from the alternative school that I attended the last few years. She is the one who actually got me interested in studying and led me to gain different perspectives on the world and life. She’s such an enthusiastic person who didn’t mind if I asked her questions, and she was always available when I needed her. I’ve been able to achieve as much as I have up until now thanks to her.
Anna: What was your biggest challenge in North Korea?
Jin Kyung: Living itself was very hard. I always faced starvation and struggled with serious domestic conflict. When I reached puberty, I abruptly left home to escape from that reality.
Anna: What is it like living in freedom in South Korea?
Jin Kyung: I believe resettling in a new society is not easy whether you have more freedom or not. I had an inferiority complex because I had a different intonation and background from South Koreans. For example, I couldn’t even understand what a bank clerk was saying to me one time. I used to care so much what other people thought about me. It just takes time to adjust to a new community.
Anna: What is something that you started to do in South Korea that you never did before?
Jin Kyung: STUDY! I’ve always wanted to attend school to study and make friends since I was back in North Korea, but I had to leave school at a young age for family reasons. At first, I had no confidence in myself to study again, and I was honestly afraid to start anything at that time. The teacher whom I mentioned earlier, she boosted my confidence by lavishing me with praise. She encouraged me with praise for one correct answer instead of scolding me over nine wrong answers. In spite of many unfamiliar words in math, Korean, science, sociology, and history classes, I quickly gained more confidence and started to catch up! I’m still so proud of myself for passing the GED this year and I’m anxious, yet excited, to start college soon.
Anna: Have your perceptions of Americans and South Koreans changed?
Jin Kyung: I honestly had no spare time to care anything other than living day by day. I really didn’t know much about other countries, but the fact that I grew up hearing bad things about them gave a negative impression. I actually used to think that the U.S. is the cause of separation of the Korean peninsula and wished that the U.S. had never existed, however, those thoughts all changed once I arrived in China by simply watching Korean movies and dramas.
Anna: What advice would you give to a friend who just arrived in South Korea?
Jin Kyung: I don’t think I’m in a position of giving them advice because there are many defectors who have lived here longer than I have. Nonetheless, I realized a few things as I resettled in South Korea. I wish North Korean defectors opened up their mind more to accept this new culture and engaged with South Koreans. I believe that it’s difficult to understand someone’s hardship if you haven’t been in the same situation, so I, as a North Korean defector, would like take an approach to get along with South Korean friends.
Anna: How often do you think about North Korea? What do you think about?
Jin Kyung: I should, but I tend not to think much about North Korea. I get upset whenever I think of North Korea because it brings out my hurtful memories and struggles. I’m also so sad and feel pity for those who still live under the miserable circumstances.