March 01, 2021

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Tainted with stigma, a North Korean defector school has nowhere to go

For years now, Yeomyung School has run into red tape while looking for a new spot

Squeezed between a lineup of touristy pork cutlet restaurants and trendy coffee shops, Seoul’s only government-recognized school for North Korean defectors stands out as an outlier filled with outliers.

Hwang Heui Gun, the chair of school affairs and the students’ gym teacher, shows off maps and elaborate paintings hanging in empty classrooms with neatly-arranged rows of desks. A tower of bagged rice is stacked in the cramped lobby, right by the school’s front doors: The staff is planning to deliver these 22-pound bags to hungry students who are remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a challenge, staff say, because some of them barely know how to use a computer.