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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
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Good ambition motivates us to run toward our goals
NKRF Date 2023-12-05 Hit 248

Good ambition motivates us to run toward our goals.  

The Simmons Mattress Company, known for its advertising slogan "unshakable comfort," is located in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. There, I met with a North Korean refugee who currently works on the production team.




Simmons Mattress, a top competitor of Ace Bed, was founded by Chairman Ahn Yusoo, an internally displaced person from Hwanghae-do, North Korea.  

I felt a strong desire to meet this person and hear their story—a North Korean refugee working at a company founded by an individual who was internally displaced during the Korean War in 1950.

Mr. Lee Ryuk is employed at the production site of Simmons Mattress.

His primary task is operating a machine to seal mattresses.

The mattress production process involves several stages, with approximately 100 workers participating in tasks such as fabric cutting, spring fitting, and attaching the cover, culminating in mechanical suturing.

Mr. Lee Ryuk began his employment at the site when he was 19 years old, and he is currently in his sixth year of service. He holds the position of field manager for the suturing process.



One step back for two steps forward Chose a different path than going to college

Mr. Lee Ryuk left his hometown, Sinpa-gun (also known as Kim Jeong-Suk County), in Yanggang-do, North Korea, in late fall of 2016. He made this decision following a call from his parents, who had already fled to South Korea a year earlier.

After graduating from high school in North Korea, Mr. Lee Ryuk arrived safely in South Korea the following year and completed his orientation at Hanawon. He then made his way to Cheonan, where his parents had settled.

During the early stages of his resettlement, he initially aspired to pursue a college education like his peers. However, after careful consideration, he opted for a different path.

“I decided against pursuing a college education when I realized the challenges of studying at the high school level in Korean and English

While there were special admissions for North Korean refugees, I wasn't confident I could keep up with the rigorous academic requirements, even if I had been accepted.

I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had gone to college six years ago. However, I don't regret the life I've built now, and I don't blame myself for my decision.

It may not be grand, but during the tough days of hard work, I occasionally reflect on that unrealized dream of mine."

Instead of pursuing college, Mr. Lee Ryuk opted to search for employment. It was a senior North Korean refugee who introduced him to a job opportunity in the production team at Simmons Company.

Fortunately, the interviews for production positions were not particularly challenging, allowing him to secure the job with ease.

In the mattress production process, which comprises ten steps from 1 to 10, Mr. Lee Ryuk is responsible for the stitching process, which falls within the range of steps 7 to 10.

Heavy mattresses are stitched using machines, but the workers' hands play a crucial role in handling materials and adding the finishing touches.

In the early stages of his job, he had to traverse the vast factory to find where the materials were stored.

The springs are labeled with different names corresponding to their density. Whenever he accidentally brought the wrong type of spring, he would receive stern and critical feedback, which often left him feeling surprised and taken aback. 

"More than half of the people working at the site were foreigners.

When they raised their voices to communicate clearly, given that standard Korean wasn't their first language, it sometimes sounded like they were using offensive language to me.

For those who were not fluent in standard Korean and spoke softly, I sometimes misunderstood their tone and felt anger at times.

I used to feel embarrassed about working alongside other workers who would raise their voices at me, especially after coming here for freedom. However, looking back on it now, I understand how narrow-minded my perspective was at the time."



Keeping the “dream” in the production site temporarily

Effective communication is essential for the smooth operation of the production site.

The work involves a unique form of teamwork where if one person falls behind, the entire production process is affected. This not only hampers work efficiency but can also lead to disapproving looks from colleagues.

Given that most of the co-workers were foreigners, communication beyond work-related topics was challenging. However, everyone excelled in their job, particularly in handling materials. 

Mr. Lee Ryuk's initial focus was on memorizing the names of the materials. 

He resorted to taking pictures and making notes in an attempt to avoid making mistakes.


During even brief breaks, he diligently reviewed his notes to learn the names of materials, assessed the thickness and density of each spring to distinguish the various types, and practiced the stitching machine process repeatedly.

As he became more accustomed to the workflow, his interactions and communication with his co-workers began to flow more naturally.

"Looking back, he acknowledges that starting his job working alongside foreign colleagues in the early stages of his employment greatly aided his adaptation to the company.

Initially, I struggled with the work and had numerous complaints about my co-workers.

However, I realized that if I had voiced my frustrations every time, I felt that way, there would have been no one willing to assist me.

As time passed, I grew accustomed to my work and developed valuable know-how.

This improvement in my work performance gradually earned recognition from my colleagues, ultimately resulting in a salary increase.

He currently serves as a manager at the stitching site, with a monthly salary exceeding 4 million won. 

For 25-year-old Lee Ryuk, his parents are his sole source of solace.

After working at the factory for three years, he was finally able to visit his parents in Cheonan every weekend.

As a devoted son and the field manager of a mid-sized company, he carries a dream that he has cherished since his days in North Korea.

“I’ve been dreaming to be a computer programmer since I was little.  

However, when I came to Korea, I realized that the field of IT had progressed beyond my imagination, with numerous talented programmers already at work.

To be honest, I felt intimidated by this realization, but I haven't completely abandoned my 'dream'."


Goals may change, but the pursuit of new challenges persists

It came as a surprise to hear from him, as he has remained dedicated to his work for six years without deviation, that he now seeks a new challenge in a different field.

His initial ambition to establish a small computer program development company has evolved.

His new plan involves acquiring knowledge related to program development at an academy and then joining a small program development company.

Embarking on new challenges often brings along with it a sense of fear.

Many people tend to opt for the safer, more familiar path. 

However, Mr. Lee is diligently preparing, step by step, to pursue his goal, even though it's a challenging journey.

"Just because you set goals doesn't mean they come true all the time.

Dreams can change, and sometimes unforeseen circumstances may force you to give them up.

However, once you set a goal and actively work toward it, the sense of hope and excitement it brings keeps you going.

Good ambition constantly excites me, motivating me to strive for my goals and work diligently.

Mr. Lee Ryuk has numerous dreams and goals.

While there's no guarantee that all of his aspirations will be fulfilled, 

his six years of unwavering work experience indicate that his wishes are more likely to become reality rather than remaining mere dreams."