Thursday, October 24, 2013

Our Future Leaders in Fostering Unification

A newly published memoir, An Eleven Year Old's Will, by a North Korean defector, Kim Eun-ju, is the focus of a Peace Weekly article written by a professor who has been concerned with these defectors to the South (she prefers and uses a less controversial term than 'a defector to the South') for about 8 years, and every time the plight of these newcomers is mentioned, she admits that it is deeply disturbing to her.

The memoir, the story of an 11-year child who endured the famine in North Korea during the 90s, recounts those difficult days of hunger and fear, and finally her departure from North Korea. Her father had recently died and her mother and sister gave her enough money to buy a block of bean curd, and then left in search of food. They told her they would return in 2 or 3 days but never did. After waiting for six days, she left a message for her mother:  "Mother, I waited for you, didn't I? 6 days have passed, I feel I will die. Why haven't you returned?"

While attending  University a few years ago, during mid-term exams, a student from the North told the teacher that she didn't understand what she wanted her to do for her assignment. The teacher told her that she was sitting close to the front of the class and shouldn't have had difficulty in hearing the assignment; the student answered that while in North Korea she never learned any English. The teacher was surprised because she wasn't speaking in English, but then, all of a sudden, it came to her what the student meant: words the teacher had used, such as, text, orientation, keyword, cyberspace-campus, and similar words that have become part of the Korean language were the "English" the student was referring to.

This difficulty, among others, is one reason for not easily transitioning into the culture of the South and  getting the credits necessary for graduating from school. The professor was taking time out of her schedule to teach them basic English, but she realized this wasn't the only problem; in leaving North Korea, their education was severely compromised. She is often dumbfounded, she says, by the questions they ask, such as "Was Shakyamuni a human? Was Socrates a woman? Nobel--Is that a name of a person? A  frog? An insect?

Her own family has scars from the conflict between the North and South. Anytime her maternal grandmother heard a door slam, even while sleeping, she would  sit up and fold her hands in prayer. The professor knew that during the Korean conflict, the grandmother's son was dragged away by the militia, and never knew whether he was alive or dead. 

These are the common  scars that remain in the lives of many Koreans. With the passage of time and the unification of the country will these scars be healed or be aggravated? the professor asks. In answering that question, she says it's helpful to keep in mind that the North and the South have different cultural systems, habits, values, educational methods that will continue to separate the two sides.

We need to continually nurture those who will help to overcome the chaos that we have between our two peoples, she says.  She thinks the North Koreans who are now living here and studying in our schools will be the bridge to the future harmony of the country. That, she says, is one good reason, among many others, why we need to be concerned for their welfare.

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