Post-Project Reflection Paper

December 16th, 2010 by hyoongyung 5 comments »

Post-Project Reflection Paper: North Korea

             This project and this course were a great learning experience for me. I was humbled when I realized how much I do not know about other places in the world. Oftentimes, I am caught up in what is going on in my immediate sphere of life. However, it is important to remember that I do not know everything, and that there are always new things to learn. This is the attitude with which I approached my project; I had always heard tidbits of information about North Korea here and there either from the news, my church, or family members. North Korea is a nation that is full of mystery because of the discrepancy between the reports from concentration camp refugees and the official reports of the North Korean government.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) has been one of the leading organizations committed to spreading awareness about the current condition of North Koreans through storytelling and rescuing and sheltering refugees. They have recently embarked on a campaign, called “TheHundred”, to rescue refugees from North Korea who have escaped to China and are living in hiding. There are currently an estimated 300,000 North Koreans who are hiding in China to find food, support their family, and find freedom. LiNK’s short-term goal for this “TheHundred” is to save one hundred refugees. It costs about $2,500 to rescue one refugee (provides for food, shelter, transit, guides, paperwork, et cetera). LiNK has decided to commit to rescuing North Korean refugees in China because they have recognized a need to aid these refugees in finding freedom. When a North Korean flees the country, they are risking being punished by imprisonment, labor, torture, or even death. A North Korean risks his very life in order to escape to freedom; LiNK is dedicated to helping North Korean refugees. So far, twenty refugees have been rescued through this campaign.

There are many reasons why refugees decide to escape from North Korea. One of the main reasons is lack of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. The lack of freedom, especially in these aspects, leads to confirming many refugees’ decisions to flee and find refuge in China or in Southeast Asia. There are also many humans’ rights abuses that are committed by the government on North Koreans. Extrajudicial killings are executed; people are raped and tortured; women are forced to have abortions; public executions are performed; and arbitrary detention sentences are issued to people. There are also food insecurity and problems with domestic policies. Since the state is in control of food, they limit or discriminate in the distribution of food. There have also been devastation due to natural disasters over the years (i.e., floods and droughts). Approximately 40% of the North Korean population is in need of food assistance; this statistic may be due to the “Military-first” doctrine, which states that those in the military receive priority for financial expenditures, materials, and resources (especially food).

Some of the refugees who have been rescued through LiNK’s “TheHundred” campaign have been video documented (their videos are available on LiNK’s website for “TheHundred” campaign”). One elderly man named Ki-Won (who was born in 1935) has given me some perspective on the situation in North Korea, and why anyone would risk their life to escape. In his video interview, he recalled the drastic change the overtook North Korea when Kim Il-Sung died:

“Life was bearable when Kim Il-Sung was alive. But once Kim Il-Sung passed away, life became difficult. It’s the government’s responsibility to keep the people alive, but there was nothing to help us. We couldn’t even eat porridge. We had to pick grass because there was no one to help us. The government didn’t do anything to keep us alive and many people died of starvation. I had no choice but to leave in order to survive.”

One can see that life for North Koreans has changed for the worse ever since the single-party dictatorship was established under Kim Il-Sung (the father of the current North Korean dictator). Somehow, after the change in leadership, life had become bleaker and more desperate.

Another refugee who has been rescued through LiNK’s “TheHundred” campaign named Mi-Sun hopes to share her experience of being rescued to bring hope to other refugees who are currently suffering. She recalls dropping out of middle school in order to help support her family. Mi-Sun remembers growing bitter and angry for being in such a poor and desperate state: “I wondered what kind of wrong I had done and became angry toward my parents for bringing me into this world. I was so afraid of being poor.” Ever since she has been rescued, she has been filled with gratitude, refusing to let her past life in North Korea shape and determine her future. Mi-Sun wants to give encouragement and hope for those who are currently struggling in North Korea or in hiding:

“To those who are still struggling, don’t blame yourself. There are many people out there working to help us carry out new lives. Keep this in mind so you can remain hopeful for a happy life.”

Through Mi-Sun’s experience living as a refugee in China and Southeast Asia, I was able to see that not only do North Korean refugees suffer physically, but they are also have to bear the psychological toll that hard labor, poverty, and the fear of being caught and arrested by the government can have on a person.

Reading about the story of another refugee, Hyun-Ji, has made me realize how extraordinary certain mundane activities can seem to a North Korean refugee. Hyun-Ji reflects on her previous life in North Korea and her plans for her future:

“When I was back home in North Korea, I wanted to do this and that, but the economy was so tough that it was difficult just to buy clothes to wear. Now my dream is to go to school, study singing and do anything related to music.”

Things like going to school and partaking in activities related to music are things that Hyun-Ji looks forward to doing because she was able to do these things when she lived in North Korea and in hiding as a refugee. Reading through parts of interviews of rescued refugees has helped me to understand a bit more about the extent of difficulty and strife that North Korean refugees experience on a daily basis. Even participating in the most seemingly mundane activities becomes a dream to them because of their limited resources and opportunities in North Korea.

             I have also heard stories through more informal means through my family members and staff members of a movement with which I am involved called KCCC (Korea Campus Crusade for Christ). I have often spoken with my parents about the situation in North Korea. I have learned most of what I know about North Korea from them. When I told my mom about my project, and what I had learned about political concentration camps in North Korea, she told me that people can get thrown into jail or a concentration camp simply for watching a South Korean drama on television.

A KCCC staff member, Eun-Shil Lee, on campus also told me a story about a testimony that she had heard from a rescued female North Korean refugee. She told me that this woman (for the purpose of this story, I will call her Soo-Jung) had been a prisoner in one of North Korea’s concentration camps. While in the camp, Soo-Jung recalls being intrigued by a particular group of prisoners. These prisoners were hunchbacked because they were put to work near a furnace that emitted air and smoke at high temperatures; the extended periods of exposure to extreme heat had melted these prisoners’ bones, permanently damaging them and re-shaping their spines. But Soo-Jung noticed that though these prisoners were severely deformed and in much pain, they always had looks of pure joy on their faces. They would look most joyful when they gathered in a circle and looked heavenward. Soo-Jung then discovered that these prisoners were Christians. Their joy came not from this world and their present circumstances; rather, their joy came from Jesus Christ who sustained them and gave them strength to persevere the terrible and horrid conditions of the concentration camp. Soo-Jung soon after found an opportunity to escape from the concentration camp. When she had fled the camp and was running away, a snowstorm with heavy gusts of wind occurred, blinding the vision of the concentration camp guards; it was truly a miracle because Soo-Jung had made her escape in the month of May. Soo-Jung strongly believes that God had rescued her from the concentration camp by sending that snowstorm on the day she escaped. She now shares her story with others to testify what God had done for her to deliver her from despair and hopeless into a life of freedom and light.

             I think if I were able to re-do this project, I would have tried to be more active in spreading awareness about North Korea. Although doing research for this project was very eye-opening and increased my understanding about North Korea, I would have liked to at least help organize an event with the purpose of raising money for an organization like LiNK. Tackling the crisis in North Korea seems like a huge task; however, it gives me hope that there is an organization like LiNK that is dedicated full-time to bringing aid to North Korea, especially by rescuing refugees.

             The main thing that I have learned from doing this project is that spreading full, or even adequate, information about North Korea (or any other topic for that matter) is a difficult and burdensome experience. I have come to realize that there are so many different aspects and layers involved in learning about any topic. There are so many perspectives and ways of thinking to consider when gathering information about something, let alone endeavoring to report it. I am excited because I have realized, through pursuing the research required for this project, that there are always new things to discover about North Korea; there are still more stories that need to be told and heard about life in North Korea.

North Korea poem for my presentation

December 16th, 2010 by hyoongyung 3 comments »

This is incredibly delayed… but I wanted to post up the poem that I had written for my project. I wasn’t able to read it in class because I ran out of time.

Cast into darkness, pitted against despair
Thrown into a structure of mindless worship
Of an indifferent god who acts on a whim
And cares not for his subjects
Who loyally devote themselves to him
This is the hermit kingdom

The world overlooks them
Political giants play their games
Claiming that the smug tyrant
Simply wants to stir up trouble
Like a meddlesome nuisane
This is the hermit kingdom

How do they live each day?
Do they live in fear? Or are they not aware?
Do they dream
Of what lies beyond those barricaded borders?
Do they long to flee
Like the 120 who escaped from Bukchang?

Is there hope for the hermit kingdom?
How long will it be
Before their story is told
And acknowledged, recognized, prioritized?
Is there anyone who can hear their cries
Absorbed into nothingness?
I still have to edit my poem because I wasn’t content with its structure and some of its content.
I also need a title. So if anyone wants to suggest a title for my poem, please feel free to share your suggestions with me by commenting on this blog post.

Sixth workshop assignment: Project Update

November 15th, 2010 by hyoongyung 2 comments »

To be honest, I have not gotten very far with my project for this class. I have, however, been researching as much as I could on North Korea in current events.

Within the past month, I have learned that a technical university has been established and opened for its first day of classes in Pyongyang, the nation’s capital. The interesting thing about this university is that it was founded by American evangelicals. The opening of this university is not only a huge step forward for Christian missionaries, but also for the world’s  efforts to reach out to North Korea – a nation that is often called “the hermit kingdom”.

I am also reading a book called Ten Thousand Sorrows, a memoir by Elizabeth Kim, a Korean War orphan. Her father was an American soldier, and her mother was a Korean woman. She was outcasted by her family, and eventually murdered in an “honor killing” because she had a child with an American man.

I plan to interview students from Juilliard, who founded an organization called the North Korean Children’s Fund (NKCF). I was told that they are going to host a benefit concert soon for malnourished children and orphans in North Korea.

Practicing with the style of Patricia Grace

November 15th, 2010 by hyoongyung 2 comments »

No one knows exactly when or why Charlie began to display abnormal, even antisocial, behavior. His parents always made it a point to emphasize Charlie’s “normal” childhood; if anyone suspected a hint of instability in Charlie’s past, they would point fingers of blame at his parents for not keeping a close enough eye on their child.

Charlie’s antisocial behavior was even more of a mystery because his twin brother, Gabriel, was what many people would consider the “normal” one. Gabriel actively participated in and enjoyed his classes, was friendly and outgoing, and always willing to listen to and give advice to anyone who needed counseling. In short, everyone admired and respected Gabriel. Gabriel’s popularity and many achievements, however, tended to cast a shadow on Charlie.

Oftentimes, Charlie would pick fights with whomever wronged him, or even those who simply annoyed him for no particular reason. Charlie would grow angrier with each successive fight he fought. Sometimes Gabriel would be forced to speak on his twin’s behalf; he understood that while Charlie was outwardly brutish and violent, he was vulnerable and deeply hurting internally.

Gabriel often worried about Charlie. He tried to encourage Charlie to seek out professional help for his emotional problems, or at least go to the school psychologist. Although he knew that his twin brother was trying to help him, Charlie refused to look to “shrinks” for counseling. His refusal was worrisome; Gabriel started suspecting that his brother had a very small circle of trust among his friends and family. Gabriel himself had a difficult enough time trying to get Charlie to open up to him; what made him think that Charlie would be willing to talk openly about his problems with someone he had never before met?

Charlie would sometimes even lash out sudden anger on Gabriel if he had been putting too much pressure on him to seek help from a psychologist. Gabriel always took note of the intense, burning glare that would sear through his brother’s eyes whenever he brought up his problem. Gabriel would sometimes spend sleepless nights on his bed, fearing that his life would be unceremoniously ripped from his clenched fists. On rare occasions, he would even be reduced to tears when he thought not only of the pain that could be inflicted on him by his brother, but also of the helpless condition of his brother – his flesh and blood.


In this writing exercise, I attempted to personify North Korea in the character of Charlie. Gabriel is representative of South Korea, here characterized as North Korea’s “brother”.

Literary Manifesto

October 18th, 2010 by hyoongyung 2 comments »

As I delve more and more into the English major, I come to appreciate the power of literature. Literature, to me, has become more than a hobby for entertainment. Literature has the power to break down walls of prejudice, build new foundations principle by principle, shed new light on long hidden-away nuggets of knowledge, and mold minds to become flexible enough to hold more perceptions and scopes.

I think the best form of literature for resistance movements would be poetry. There is something about poetry that allows for a wide variety of emotions and experiences to be contained within a couple of lines of verse. It is true that straightforward prose can effectively convey a certain argument; however, poetry tends to leave a deeper impact. For example, Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred”, was able to influence the progression of the Civil Rights movement more than any single piece of prose on human rights. Poems are also more accessible than works of prose; they are more easily memorized, and easily relatable.

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