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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
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Despair, Challenges and Fruition
김효진 Date 2022-05-31 Hit 402

 

 

Despair, Challenges and Fruition  



 

 

 

The ‘Arduous March’ which challenged survival itself, completely changed 30-something-year old Ms. Heo Young-hee’s life and mind. The socialist beliefs she had acquired were shaken up, and money became the center of all fixations. She jumped into foreign territory when she tried her hand in business, and reality wasn’t easy. She lived for money and despaired over money. 

What comforted her from despair was a single strand of hope: longing for another world. The longing changed into resolution, and she crossed the river. What waited for her was a different world. She could feel peace and leisure from the faces of people around her. Streets were alive with foreign words. But the high-rise buildings with open windows actually weighed down on the world and no place seemed welcoming. 

 

 

Endless Despair 

She finally made a way to settle in a small village in Jilin Province, but she was always nervous. A public security car would drive up in the middle of the night, seeking out North Korean refugees. She had even seen a neighbor who had a young baby get arrested and repatriated, which fanned her fears. 

Filled with anxiety, she hid in her in-law’s house, where she gave birth to her daughter. Her despair grew as she thought of her daughter’s future. The continent was vast but there was nowhere she could run to ease her mind. 

In the fall of 2009, she took her young daughter’s hand and stepped forward to a new world, South Korea. She was overwhelmed with emotion and hope at the thought that she didn’t have to fear for her security or live under scrutiny. They say that you see as much as you know, but it’s also true that you know as much as you see. She felt this even more in the new world, where all her previous lives and experiences became useless. 

 

 


New Challenges 

She started to work at a restaurant, where being a cook stood out to her. She tried to get a cooking certificate. When her work and academic studies ended, she bought the needed ingredients and cooked at home. She wanted to review as much as she could to familiarize her hands. Her efforts did not betray her. Within a month she passed the Western food cooking certificate, and the next month she got the Korean food certificate. 

The academy suggested that she become an instructor, and other colleagues envied her. She took time to look back on her having achieved something she wanted for the first time in a foreign land. She started to gain confidence. She thought back to her times when she was solely focused on survival with no signs of basic human rights, and the difficulties she went through in the other land. 

She wanted to forget about her challenging past and be happy. “Happiness comes from living the life you want. I wonder what kind of life I want. I wonder what I’ll be like 10 years from now. I wonder what my daughter will expect of her mother. I wonder what it is I can leave behind for my daughter.” Thoughts like these started to take root deep within her. 

She didn’t stop with becoming a cook and tried new things. She wrote up a bucket list (a list of things to do before one dies). “Graduate college, work in a field of expertise, get a master’s and Doctoral degree, and become a professor.” Regardless of whether or not they were achievable, she wrote down her dreams. It was a version of her that allowed herself to be selfish and dream, and a version of herself that she wanted to show her daughter as a mother. 

In her mid-40s, studying Social Welfare in university, she has a newfound resolution. It’s obvious that she knows less than others. So if others read a book once, she will read it ten times. When others walk, she will run. She woke up early in the morning to study. She would summarize the study notes and share it with her friends. 

She came 2nd in her grades. She got compliments and encouragements from the teacher’s assistant. She felt really proud. But as graduation loomed, she had to break from her studies and face the reality of employment. 

She applied for work at general social welfare centers and workplaces, but her attempts didn’t work out. There were colleagues who said it’d be difficult for her to find a job since she was in her 50s and had a North Korean dialect. She thought she was satisfied with learning a lot late in her age without expecting more, but as time went by, her heart grew heavier. 

Was her choice wrong? Why did she choose to study? If she had been satisfied with being a cook, how would her life have been different? Was her bucket list an impossible dream? As it felt like her past efforts were nothing but self-actualization and ignoring reality, she felt even more pressured and weighed down with the weight of life and raising children. Every day was difficult and her life pointless. 

 

 


Overwhelming Reward 

But it wasn’t time to be weighed down by the burdens of reality. Always optimistic regarding new challenges, she has been working as a counselor at a Domestic Violence Counseling Center of the Women's Culture and Human Rights Center for the past 5 years from 2017. 

She is working as a team leader and is responsible for processing calls and domestic violence reports. She helps guide victims of domestic violence to medical facilities or shelters. 

The number of people who await Ms. Heo’s help is not small. There are female North Korean refugees who are suffering from severe physical and mental pain from domestic violence. She empathizes with them more than anyone, and feels fulfilled in her life when she sees them healed. 

She is also lecturing as an adjunct professor at Dong-Eui Institute of Technology. One time a student came up to her after the orientation and said the following: 

“Hearing your challenges, efforts, and the life you’ve lived through, I started to gain confidence that it’s not too late for me to start. Professor, you are my role model.” 

The words of sincerity spoken by her student filled her life with a sense of fruitfulness and satisfaction. 

Ms. Heo says, “Happiness is not something someone gives but something that you make.” Even today, in hopes of discovering her own life, she takes yet another step forward to cross off another item from her bucket list.