Welcome back to the NK News feature, “Ask a North Korean!”
Our feature that gives readers an opportunity to send in questions to North Koreans is back – after a brief hiatus – with two new writers.
Je Son Lee is a female who left the Mt. Paektu area of North Korea in 2011 and Yoo Sung Jun is a male who left North Hamgyong Province also in 2011. Together, they’ll be joining Ji Min Kang, who you may know already – our writer from Pyongyang.
We hope their three perspectives will help shed light on day-to-day life in North Korea. We re-start the feature today with introductions from one of our new writers to get you acquainted with their background. Je Son kicks off…
Introducing Je Son
My name is Je Son and I’m 25 years of age. I’m one of the two new Ask a North Korean writers who’ll be joining Ji Min in the coming months on these pages.
Tomorrow I’ll start my column, but before that I wanted to tell you a bit about my story, so you have a better understanding of my background.
I was born in a small neighborhood town near the legendary Mt. Paektu, the huge mountain located just near the Chinese border.
After growing up in a neighborhood where boys outnumbered girls, I became a bit of a tomboy in my younger years, being much more used to masculine personalities, behavior, language and fashions. So while girls of my age were playing house, I would play games with toy swords and guns or play soccer with the boys from my neighborhood.
But when I turned seven and had to start going to kindergarten and elementary school, I suddenly had to get used to North Korea’s collectivist society. And though I still enjoyed playing sports, suddenly I had to start wearing a skirt and tie, which I couldn’t easily get used to. “Why should I have to wear a skirt? I thought. I also couldn’t understand why I had to wear a tie to go to school at seven years old. As a result, I grew more dissatisfied day-by-day.
Going through high school and university in the Mt. Paektu area, I soon found more problems trying to understand the strict hierarchical society that exists in North Korea. The more dissatisfied I became, the more I wanted to leave. Finally in 2011, I came to South Korea in search of a new life.
When I first arrived in South Korea, I felt like nothing was impossible. But not long after arriving I had to face with reality…
When I first arrived in South Korea, I felt like nothing was impossible. But not long after arriving I had to face with reality: no matter how hard I searched for a job, the only one I could find was either doing the dishes in the back of the kitchen or cleaning. I therefore found myself with two options: either make a living doing the dishes or make the utmost effort to study.
Frankly speaking, I was too scared to live as a member of South Korean society. University was the only shelter I could hide in, I thought. But now that I’m beginning my sophomore year, university has become my hope, not just my shelter from reality.
During my adolescence, when I was curious about new things, I had a different dream and goal every day. It’s because of that open-mindedness and outgoing personality that I’m able to write for you now, after leaving North Korea.
One thing I can assure you is that I’m going to tell you the truth about North Korea based on my experience, without exaggeration. And there’s nothing I would feel uncomfortable talking about, so long as you don’t ask me unnecessary personal questions.
Since there are so many North Korean refugees now, there are many more opportunities to gain knowledge about North Korea than there used to be. But not all of them have experienced the same lifestyle as me, and yet even those who come from the same place will have different perspectives. Therefore, I decided to participate in this column, hoping to give people interested in North Korea access to the stories of as many refugees as possible.
I look forward to your questions!
Got a question for Je Son? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
Editing and translation by Elizabeth Jae
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