The Journey to Freedom – QnA with a North Korean Defector (by Ashley)

Annyeong fellow Macros! I decided to share the QnA with Jun Heo with you. I have never met a North Korean before and I am quite certain, most of you neither. Some of you are perhaps interested to learn more about the tense situation between the North and South when deciding to study there.
Our cultural-communications Professor organized a lecture in one of the top universities of South Korea – Yonsei University.

Lecture in Yonsei University (one of the top SKY Unis in Korea)

Around 13 years ago two Chinese brokers brought Jun Heo to China. It was the first time he crossed the Tuman River. Jun Heo said that he grew up with a belief that his country was the best in the entire world and that the leader was the ultimate leader in history. Yet he did not know a single thing about the outside world and told us that he saw the Americans and South Koreans as enemies. When he arrived in China, and saw for the first-time, cars and high buildings, the bright lights of a city’s nightlife, that him realize that his perception about his country might be wrong. His mother flew from North Korea when he was only 13, but he did not know that she had fled until he again met her in a concentration camp in North Korea. Juns journey to the outside world was a very bumpy ride. Once he set his foot in China, he was handed to Chinese officials who sent him back to North Korea, where he received his punishments in a concentration camp and there he met his mother for the first time since a couple of years.
After a few months in captivity, experiencing the inhumane treatments of the police and soldiers, his childhood heroes, the people he looked up to, who motivated him to become a soldier as well, turned into immoral monsters. Jun Heo kept his experience of China to himself to avoid being thrown in jail again. Those experiences however, were his motivation that made him want to flee again. Going to China is the first step all defectors must take to be free, although, it is said that in the northeast is where a lot of North Korean spies are located. Eventually in Thailand Jun Heo was able to obtain a refugee status in South Korea.

It was remarkable how he taught himself English in less than 5 years and that he was confident to tell us his story in English, a language he does not like. As a refugee he received financial help to pay off his accommodation and studies. It was not an easy journey for Jun Heo to obtain the qualifications for college, but he made it into the best university of the country. He started with psychology, then economics, then he found his passion for political science in which he is now majoring in. In the QnA part we asked him how South Koreans or his classmates reacted when they find out that he is a defector. Some commented that they thought he was a spy and usually South Koreans look down upon those refugees. His classmates did not believe him because he did not have an accent. We also asked him about his opinion regarding the topic of unifying the North and South of Korea one day. Among different factors, he emphasized that South Korea did not have the right economic structure yet to be able to cope with the financial issues that will occur if they were ever to unify. The education differences and qualifications of North Koreans are not high enough to cope with a modern society. North Koreans have a hard time finding proper jobs with a decent income due to lack of education. Even before the arrival of Jun Heo in our lecture, other Korean students from Yonsei shared mixed feelings about the unification and how the opinion varies among different generations. Some say that younger generation in the south will have a hard time to understand the mindset of the younger generation in the north. Older generations still have the memories from back then and still feel the tension to this day. Both halves of the peninsula have learnt to see their half as their own country and the other half as their enemy. On the hand, others want to stop the agony of North Korean people and reunify with family members again. One can hear in Jun Heos‘ voice, how much he wishes the unification to happen, but the time is not yet right. Only if the elite, the 1 % of North Koreans want to change things, then the entire Korean peninsula will have the chance to unify. As for now, the elites will do everything they can, even beyond the reign of Kim Jong-Un, to keep the system the way it is. But this challenge is what keeps Jun Heo motivated. He wants to help his family who are still in North Korea and at the same time he is working to become a better individual, so he can build his own family in South Korea and live a normal life.

This lecture was the most inspiring lecture I have ever witnessed and it taught me a great lesson that despite the obstacles, one will always find ways to success with the right determination.
Thank you, Professor Kim, for this opportunity.
Ash & Kai

Written by Ashley Aurin

Want to see more pictures of Seoul? Check out IG @macrosinseoul
Jun Heo’s Youtube channel: Jun Heo

Jun Heo’s Journey to Freedom