Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Time on matchmaking services for North Korean refugees in the ROK

Time Magazine has an interesting piece on how lonely North Koreans are making use of matchmaking services to find companionship:
"Life was difficult. I didn't know how things worked and I was lost," recalls Kang, who escaped to South Korea in 2002 via Thailand. "I realized that [marrying a South Korean] was the fastest way to create a new life."

Kang, 40, is happy with her choice — so happy, in fact, that she now helps her husband Hong Seung Woo with the matchmaking agency he runs to connect North Korean women and South Korean men. Hong opened the business in 2006, a year after he and his wife were married. As of last September, there were officially over 17,000 North Koreans living in South Korea, triple the number from 2004, according to the Unification Ministry, the government agency in Seoul in charge of North Korean affairs. Almost 80% of North Koreans defecting today are women. "This is a shortcut for their adaptation," says Kang.
Even without the prejudice that many North Koreans face in the South (not by everybody, but by enough people to make life difficult), there would be problems due to a lack of interpersonal connections stretching back to childhood that act as a social lubricant for ROK citizens, an unsettling unfamiliarity with South Korea's brand of the Korean language (which relies heavily on foreign words and is very fluid when it comes to new vocabulary and even grammar) that I have heard makes some North Koreans feel that they are listening to a foreign language, a dearth of English skills needed to land better jobs*, and a need to start a whole new life from scratch.

Even without mistreatment, North Koreans settling in the South could easily feel marginalized. In that sense — and I'm not saying this to make light of anybody's plight — they experience many of the problems that other foreign residents do, including English teachers or Korean Americans who lack close family ties and/or strong language skills.

The website for the service, by the way, is found here.

* If you ever feel a need to really make a difference for some people while in South Korea, one good way is to volunteer to teach English to kids in orphanages or people who have escaped from North Korea. They are in dire need of a helping hand to help them level the playing field, and your generosity would make a difference.

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