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Memoirs of Defection: My motivation for leaving North Korea

By: Lee Choon Hyuok

Translated by: Heimun Pang

In the spring of 2005, I was going to enlist in the military. With an expectant heart, I harboured high aspirations to defend my country. A few days before enlistment, however, my mother phoned from China and asked me to visit her. I found the request a tad ridiculous and questioned why. She said I only needed to visit for a day or so to help her with her baggage. So without much thought, in April 2005, I left for China unsuspectingly, which marked the beginning of my journey to South Korea.


When I was young, I simply followed my mother and together, we stayed in China illegally a few times. Life was undoubtedly difficult but we got through it by trading. However, we could not make our way to South Korea and Yanji City became our final destination. When I had heard of the place called church, I could not even imagine myself going there. I didn’t want to go to church; I also initially strongly opposed the idea of going to South Korea.


My mother, however, devoted much thought to the idea before arriving at a decision. She explained that we ought not to give up the plausibility of going to South Korea and told me to seriously consider it. One of the reasons for going to South Korea, my mother said, would be for me to study. She begged me not to turn her down and said that was her last wish. Our discussion finally concluded, and three days later I chose the path to South Korea. We planned to eventually set off June of the same year. But a troubling problem surfaced – my mother could not leave with me.


Once again, it was a major blow to me. I asked her why. She said she had no idea how things would turn out for me; besides, my brothers in North Korea knew nothing about this and if she were to leave with me, what would become of them? She was right, so I departed from Yanji, passed through Shenyang City, and eventually entered Mongolia in July. After staying in Mongolia for two months, I arrived in South Korea on September 27.


At the outset, I did not even know if it was a good or bad idea to be admitted into the Hanawon, where every defector goes after they arrive in South Korea. After completing the orientation course there, I enrolled in The Great Vision School to begin my studies. I dropped out in my second year of elementary school when I was in North Korea,so at the age of 19, I had to go back to elementary school in South Korea. It was a particular period of my life when I felt that things did not all become better after coming to South Korea. One of the major challenges was trying to comprehend what others said.


Although South Koreans spoke Korean, I hated to even think about why their language was so different from North Korea’s. For a year-and-a-half, I wandered aimlessly and took up part-time jobs at various P.C rooms. But I could not save enough money, and my frail body was plagued with constant pain. At that juncture, I recalled again why I left North Korea and came to South Korea. My promise to my mother that I would study and make it to university resurfaced in my mind and tugged on my heart. Later, I returned to The Great Vision School and commenced my studies. In April 2009, I graduated from middle school and am now pursuing my second year at the University of Seoul as an economics major.

Why leave north korea