Defector to get grant to study in New York

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Defector to get grant to study in New York

For the first time, a North Korean defector in the South is heading to America to get an undergraduate degree.

A private foundation called Mulmangcho (forget-me-not), which assists young North Korean defectors with their educations, announced yesterday that a 23-year-old attending Yonsei University will be the first defector it will send to study abroad. It called her Park Hye-jin, although that is an alias.

The foundation, founded by Representative Park Sun-young, a North Korean human rights activist, said Park won an essay competition held by the foundation and it will pay 40 million won ($34,379) for her studies in New York starting in August.

“I will do my best as the first North Korean defector to fly to New York to study,” Park said in a speech yesterday at a ceremony. The university hasn’t been chosen yet.

Born in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong, Park has led a harrowing life. She defected into the South in 2006 after two previous attempts in which she was caught and sent to labor camps.

She was raised during North Korea’s so-called “Arduous March,” the famine years between 1994 and 1997. She said she grew up eating grass. In 1998, her parents divorced and she defected with her mother to China, where a relative lived. However, the relative didn’t want to give them asylum because of an intense crackdown by Chinese authorities. Someone reported them to authorities and they were repatriated to the North.

They were imprisoned twice in the notorious concentration camp in Tumen.

Mother and daughter eventually ended up in Harbin as they made their way to the South. Park’s mother emphasized the need to study. At a middle school in Harbin, she was always among the top students.

“I was pleased to show that a North Korean defector could be smart enough to compete with the Chinese if given food and the opportunity,” Park said. “At the age of 11, a Chinese teacher encouraged me to overcome my traumatic past and focus on studying.”

“It’s difficult for North Koreans to stage an uprising due to the brainwashing and surveillance,” Park said.

“But I’m convinced that if there were more than 100 members of the elite who realized what the outside world was like, North Korea would definitely change.”

By Lee Won-jean []
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