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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SETTLEMENT STORY
SETTLEMENT STORY
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[Social Integration Case Presentation Contest] This is also a good place to live.
NKRF Date 2024-03-07 Hit 155

This is also a good place to live. 

 

 

Oh Hyun-jeong

 

 

 

Nice to meet you. 

My name is Oh Hyun-jeong, and I am a friend, father, and family member to about 20 young North Korean refugees. I am an ordinary citizen of the Republic of Korea who has worked at a trading company for 25 years, the father of two children who love sports, and who lives diligently according to my vision in life. 

I would like to tell you a story of the young North Korean refugees I met. 

I think it was the year of 2014. Our relationship began when I was introduced to a young North Korean refugee, who was encouraged to cross the border without much in his early 20s by a mutual acquaintance. In the past, I was very interested in youth, so I worked as an alternative school teacher and youth protection member at Suwon Protection Center for 7 years, and I think my heart warmed even more after meeting young North Korean refugees. In fact, multicultural families can see and meet their families whenever they want, but North Korean refugees were unable to meet their families even if they wanted to, so I think I felt more compassion toward them. 

In particular, this young man, whom I have been seeing for 9 years, is said to have been a high school soccer player when he was in North Korea. 

So, I invited him to play with me on a social soccer team I was a member of, and I visited him two or three times a week to meet with him and help him with whatever he needed. 

Since he had lived in China for about 4 years, I suggested, ‘How about majoring in Chinese Language and Literature?’ Now that he’s graduated, he is working at a related job. 

About 6 months after we met, that friend introduced me to another young man. 

This served as an opportunity to receive training and provide specific assistance as a settlement assistant at the Northern Hana Center. 

Let me ask you something. How much do you pay for a razor?

A friend I met didn’t know the cost of living in South Korea, so he bought a razor for 450,000 won - an expensive one that I don’t even really use. After hearing him complain that the living costs in South Korea were too high, I recommended that he ask me first about buying anything that cost more than 100,000 won. 

Perhaps because they were youths, I noticed that they weren't used to cooking, so I used my skills from my previous camping trip to make pork kimchi stew. When I visited them a few days later, I laughed when I saw that they added more water to the stew so that it would last for a longer time, eating it bland. 

The young people I met were students from Yeomyeong School under Namsan Mountain, Uijeongbu Hankkum School, and other young people in their early to mid-20s who received housing in Namyangju. 

Now, they have graduated from college, gotten jobs, gotten married, and have one or two children, and are living stable lives. 

This is something we have achieved together. 

There is another friend I remember. One day, he invited me over, and when I saw him solemnly standing in front of the memorial table he had set up in memory of his father who had passed away in North Korea, I stayed with him. 

After some time passed and I waited, he opened his heart and told me his story. 

There are about 20 friends I met in this way, mostly living in Namyangju and the metropolitan area.

One friend had just left Hanawon (Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees), and after settling in Byeolnae-dong, he went out for a walk around 11 p.m. and got lost and contacted me saying he didn’t know where he was. 

When I asked what he could see around him, I was told that he could only see trees, not buildings. 

I roughly guessed the time he left and it seemed to be the tree-lined road toward Taereung Station that didn’t have many street lights, so I headed there. 

I saw him wandering in the dark with Hwarang-ro in the distance. I took him home and comforted him as he was shivering and at a loss with no one around. 

In the case of young women, they still had children in China, so when the time came, they saved and sent their hard-earned money to China. 

It is said that they were having a hard time because of their children in China, and had no choice but to send the money because of the demands being made in the name of their children. 

They said the guardians weren’t even their husbands. 

Although it was a difficult and unfortunate situation for them, I advised them to focus on their lives in South Korea and take care of their health first until things stabilized. 

It was sad to see young North Korean refugees choosing to live together first when they were meeting and dating people, perhaps because they longed for their families, so I would advise them several times. 

However, the reality was not like that, so I eventually gave up and changed my approach. 

Since my wife had run a wedding shop in the past, we would host small but precious weddings by partnering with a local church. 

As we did that, I soon came to play the role of the bride’s father and mother, and eventually got four families married. 

When people met their partners, I acted as their parent during the meeting between the two families, and when they got sick or something happened, I became their guardians and went with them to the hospital or school, and even went with them to meet a public defender. 

When I received calls in difficult times, my wife and I visited and listened to their stories. As they shared their hearts, my role naturally changed to dad, mom, aunt, and uncle. 

So I told the young people. 

 “I will be your father and mother until unification. When unification is achieved and your living mom and dad come down, I will be like your uncle and aunt.”

During the holidays, young North Korean refugees usually travel with Hanawon friends because they have no home to go to. I told them to come to my house if it was okay, and they would come to say hello during the holidays. 

It is our third year of spending a great time together, making and eating New Year’s Day food together, eating songpyeon (Half-moon Rice Cake) during the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day), and playing Yunnori (traditional Korean board game) and North Korean-style Go-Stop. This all remains a good memory. 

We also showed them how to do a New Year’s greeting bow and provided them with cultural information, mealtime etiquette, and how things are expressed in South Korean culture that may seem similar to North Korean culture but not really. 

Even in their awkward attempts, I could see small smiles. 

In connection with the social welfare team of Namyangju City Hall, we also distributed gift packages of daily necessities supported by companies, and earlier this year, in connection with the local residents’ autonomy committee, we selected North Korean refugee families and provided them with scholarships for their children, which were still financially inadequate. I thought it was a small consideration not only to provide support to North Korean refugees, but also to help them become self-reliant. 

Little by little, they were able to gain a stable life and have babies, and now my wife and I have become grandparents to them, which is something we still feel that we need to get used to. 

It is admirable to see them, who were teenagers, and their early settlement, becoming members of society, getting married, and starting families. 

They may not be used to things here and they may appear to be rough because of the different lives they had, but I think they have become our neighbors and family members. 

So that was the story of my part in taking a small step toward all of us becoming one community in the hope of North and South Korea unification. 

I believe that if we sincerely empathize, care, and share, these friends will also become the cornerstone of a Republic of Korea and prejudice will no longer have a place in our society as we achieve another unification within our community. 

Thank you for listening to my story.