For escapees, ‘choice’ is a worry

Wednesday 14th January, 2015

Choice is supposed to be a good thing. Many might believe that exiles from North Korea would enjoy about living in the South the many choices that they can now make. In reality, the opposite can be true.

Oh Soon-gi, who escaped North Korea in 2012, says she is still adjusting to her new life: “Having lived a passive life in North Korea, I was not used to actively making decisions and have had many difficult experiences. The people that I met in South Korea thought that the choices brought by freedom and democracy would amount to all that we ever hoped for. That’s just a stereotype.”

Used to a life of oppression in North Korea, escapees express difficulty in making choices and decisions. This situation comes from their previous life’s training of only being allowed to do something that was commanded from above.

Oh confesses, “Seeing the positive outcomes of free choice and democratic principles – a table covered in dishes of food, and the abundance of material goods – made me happy, but that happiness was short-lived. It wasn’t a life where choices were made for me, but a life where I had no choice but to make choices, and for that I was not fully prepared.”

Escapee (and now office employee) Kim Jeong-hwan says, “In North Korea, you simply had to follow commands at work, but in South Korea you have to take responsibility for not only the work that you have been assigned and for the results that are produced, but for the decisions you make on your own. At first, this was very difficult for me. I was flustered at the idea of having to make decisions on my own.”

The only choice according to an individual will that escapees ever made before arriving in a new country, many say, is the act of escaping itself. Ironically, upon entrance to South Korea they will be met again with ‘the crisis of taking action’. Successful entrepreneur  and North Korean escapee Shin Kyung-Soon advises fellow escapees, “We are bound to experience a period of ‘crisis of taking action’ while adjusting to life in South Korea. Once that period is over, the ‘pleasure of taking action’ is available to experience.”

For defectors, choosing to take action is often a thing of concern. While it may be painful for those just arriving in South Korea, as Shin says, trial and error and learning from experience help escapees find that there is satisfaction and fulfillment  in a life where you can choose  to take action.


Shin, Jun-shik


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