Hanawon is the first destination for North Koreans arriving in South Korea, where it is mandatory for defectors to stay for three months in order to learn how to settle down in the South.
Yet experts within the community of Seoul-based North Korean defectors all agreed that the education at Hanawon cannot completely solve the hardships defectors face in South Korean society.
Even though defectors can learn basic knowledge about their new home, the most pivotal factor for settling smoothly is getting a job.
Defector experts generally said that regular education after graduating from Hanawon is required for new arrivals, but South Koreans at large need additional education regarding North Koreans, too.
Also, one expert said that what defectors actually need during the first three months is treatment, helping them heal physical and mental wounds.
In part 35 of an NK News expert interview series, defector experts interviewed include:
- Kim Heung-kwang, Representative, North Korean Intellectual Solidarity
- Kim Seong-min, Executive Director, Free North Korea Radio
- Kim Young-hui, Korea Development Bank, Chief of the North Korean Economy Team, (Ph.D. in North Korean Studies)
- Lee Youn-geol, President, North Korea Strategic Information Service Center
- Kim Seung-chul, President, North Korea Reform Radio
Q35) Is the Hanawon integration process enough to help North Korean defectors adjust to life in South Korea?
Currently, the only education program initiated by the South Korean government is Hanawon, and it lasts for three months. After three months, there are some education programs managed by civil society, local governments and churches, but defectors don’t feel the necessity of learning and there’s no active guide to taking those programs. They learn basic knowledge about South Korean society as a liberal democratic nation, the political process and the differences between North and South Korea, but three months is not enough.
The most important thing they should learn is the correct self-esteem, the desire for a new life and understanding themselves. They can learn by living their daily lives but education, including vocational and professional training, is needed. The government should encourage people to participate.
In North Korea they used to receive a great deal of education, approximately more than three hours per week. Even though this was for brainwashing, they were educated. In South Korea, however, nobody is teaching them the value of this kind of society, what is correct and what is wrong and how to build a relationship with society.
South Koreans are also not at all educated to accept North Koreans as fellow citizens
South Koreans are also not at all educated to accept North Koreans as fellow citizens. Currently, the program entitled “eye-level unification education” is conducted, focusing on the young generation. Of course, the young generation is important, but education for (all ages) is necessary, as well as for politicians and businessmen. People tend to consider defectors “poor people” who came to South Korea due to starvation, like how they regard foreign workers.
When South and North are in the midst of a military conflict, older people who experienced the Korean War sometimes attack defector-owned shops. This is due to a lack of recognition regarding defectors, evidence they are not opening their minds to the North Korean residents.
Defectors cannot study for the whole day; of course they need to work to make a living. As a result, I opened a night school for defectors to provide them with lifelong education services. It is called the New Dream Lifelong Center. Its programs include computer classes and citizenship education. However, it is hard to fund this school, and we cannot accept many students. That’s the reason the government should lead in education for defectors to identify them as South Korean citizens.
Hanawon serves two main purposes as the first national protection facility for defectors.
First, it teaches defectors about South Korea’s history and culture, laws and regulations, geography and monetary system, and other miscellaneous information necessary to live in South Korea. Secondly, it provides help to defectors with administrative processes – such as obtaining personal identification numbers – which helps them live in Korean society, and help the defectors choose where to live.
It usually takes 12 weeks to create a personal identification number and a family register. The amount of time that defectors spend in Hanawon can be seen as the time needed to finish up the administrative work.
On the other hand, it is impossible for defectors to obtain the necessary information to live as a South Korean citizen and establish an identity in 12 weeks.
They are only learning about South Korean society in theory
Three months is a short time for people to learn about the individualist and capitalist society of South Korea after moving from North Korea, which is a socialist and collectivist society. The defectors also face a gap from reality because they are separated from the outside world. They are only learning about South Korean society in theory.
Governmental support is crucial for defectors to settle down in South Korea, but they also need considerate and thoughtful attention from South Korean nationals. In order to achieve such an outcome, the media and politics play an important role but politicians are too busy using defectors as tools during election season and the media is prone to using defectors to highlight issues and events. The education to accept defectors as fellow citizens in South Korea is nonexistent.
There is nothing wrong with the material being taught. The biggest problem is that the defectors are not ready to accept the teachings in Hanawon. The material being taught at Hanawon might contain information that is beneficial for the defectors, but if the person being taught is not ready to accept it, then they cannot digest the information properly. This leads to problems as to how efficient the education system is.
It is not the right time to educate people that have just escaped from North Korea
There is no timely method to teach people that just entered in South Korea. Even if you tell new defectors to get their mindsets straight and learn, it is not the right time to educate people that have just escaped from North Korea.
Hanwaon needs to slowly educate defectors by bringing them out from a locked-up place and helping them really face reality, instead of locking them up in Hanawon and educating them there. It is better for the defectors to be educated at the Hanacenter in each region instead of pushing for compulsory education in Hanawon. They need to focus on spiritual, psychological and physical health while they are in Hanawon and, once they are outside, it is better to educate them in other aspects such as the format of education mentioned above and the education provided by Hanawon right after they escaped from North Korea.
There is barely any education educating South Korean citizens to accept the defectors as fellow citizens. The South Korean population tends to follow the image of defectors established through media reporting and TV programs. They usually see media reports about defectors that steal, murder and commit suicide and so the general population generalizes about all defectors as murdering, committing suicide and going to bars and karaoke.
The Korean government has tried, through no small amount of money and effort, to support defectors to be able to live as ROK citizens. However, most of the education is composed of directive and cramming systems. Additionally, the education is usually higher-level and unrealistic. Through this form of education, in fact, most defectors, cannot settle down.
The education is usually higher-level and unrealistic
In particular, the support of the government fails to preserve their own individual identity and draw upon their best talents. The law for helping most defectors settle down was made in the 1990s, so this is not able to meet the changing reality.
I don’t fully understand education at Hanawon or in the public schools, as it is not my area of specialty. One thing that is clear is that education at Hanawon, for the people greeting South Korean society for the first time, does not seem that effective. Even though they are impressed with the highly developed economy and quality of life, I am not sure their inner identity is affected.
Education for South Koreans, to make them accept North Korean defectors as fellow citizens, is rarely conducted. Some total TV programming channels – jongpyeon – broadcast the reality of North Korea from the defectors’ perspective. However, I think it increases the exclusion between the South and North, as it makes the broadcast too commercial.
I am doubtful whether it is possible to change their inner identity
At some events I have seen advertisements or posters suggesting that defectors be accepted as fellow citizens. It might be possible to superficially change defectors’ identity to “South Korean,” but I am doubtful whether it is possible to change their inner identity. North Korean defectors usually sympathize with the democratic ideology, but I am not sure they will actually practice the idea.
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