Northern teens reflect on new life in the SouthYoung defectors and stars of “Our Family,” Kim Won-il, 18; Yeom Ha-ryong, 18; Han Jin-beom, 17; and Kang Goon-sung, 16, sat down with the Korea JoongAng Daily to talk about what life was like in the North and what it’s like now in the South.
Q. Is it true that K-pop is slowly catching on in North Korea?
A. Kang: No-one knows K-pop, although some know trot and older songs and artists like Nam Jin and Jang Yoon-jung.
Yeom: I’d say they know dramas more than songs.
Kim: Through China, music and dramas get transported through USBs and CDs. People gather to watch it, but there’s no live streaming.
So what do youth do for fun in North Korea?
Kang: Sometimes they play movies at workplaces.
Han: They also have cinemas in some towns.
Kang: Friends gather at a friend’s house and they dance while the parents leave for a few hours.
What was the most difficult part of adjusting to life in the South?
Kim: For me, getting used to slang words. I’d wonder if I was saying the right things. Even if it’s the same language they shorten everything here. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
Yeom: I was surprised that at school they gave you food. In North Korea you bring your own food to school.
Kim: I was surprised by the lack of war drills. In North Korea you practice all the time and there is a shelter behind every school. Here there was nothing of that sort except once a year.
When you see movies that depict North Koreans, what do you think?
Han: I don’t understand them. They talk funny and Kim Soo-hyun’s accent [in “Secretly, Greatly”], there is no dialect like that.
Did you ever regret defecting once you were in the South?
Kim: Of course. After two or three years everything was different. I didn’t have friends and so many times I regretted leaving. It was hard.
Han: At first it was great, but over time you kind of wonder why you came.
Yeom: You miss the culture, being able to play. Everyone here is on their smartphones and I missed just running around. There isn’t all that much to do here in terms of playing.
What did you think about South Koreans at first?
Kang: I’d say people are friendlier back in the North.
Yeom: I guess it’s a city thing because older ladies in the Jeolla provinces are really friendly.
Did you tell your friends at school that you are from the North?
Yeom: Our close friends know, but we don’t tell everyone that we are defectors.
Kim: We usually say we are from Gangwon because of our accent and no one questions it. I think the effects of people knowing depend on how you tell them.
Do you think about family back home?
Yeom: Because I came at a young age I’m not so nostalgic. My mom has a more difficult time about family back home. I miss them, but I’m not saddened by it.
What does your uncle mean to you?
Kim: Honestly, I don’t know if it’s because I’m living with him, but he’s more than good to me, better to me than my parents.
Yeom: When I was a kid he was like a parent. Now he’s like a companion. He’s someone I can count on for advice for life.
Han: He’s like a parent.
Kang: I’ve always thought he was great, he’s not even married and gave up so much for us. I hope he gets married and has kids soon.
BY CARLA SUNWOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]