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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
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It is up to me to overcome and accept prejudice
NKRF Date 2021-11-16 Hit 380

It is up to me to overcome and accept prejudice




 





 

The majority of North Korean refugees who have settled in South Korea say that the most difficult problem during the settlement process is ‘prejudice’. Some say they faced prejudice because they are North Korean refugees, others because of cultural differences, and some because of their accent.




To overcome prejudice, try and try again
Ms. Lee Yu-rim arrived in South Korea in her early 30s in 2006, and the first job she had was at a restaurant in a mountain lodge located by a hiking trail. She thought it would be difficult for her to get a white-collar job because of her accent, so she simply looked for one through the ‘flea market’ (a newspaper introducing jobs).
There were only two employees, the elder one who was the boss and chef, and Ms. Lee. After working intensely all day, her body would feel as if it could melt to the ground, but thinking of her daughter back in China, she worked endlessly without taking a rest.
Then one Sunday, after a busy lunch, she looked out and saw people in colorful hiking clothes, lined up and going up and down the hiking trail. It was a sight she always saw, but that day, she was filled with futile thoughts.
“I’m working even on Sundays, without rest.” It wasn’t as if she had made a lot of money either. She worked without taking days off, but the salary she received for serving halls in a small restaurant was pitiful.
 Afterwards, she quit the restaurant and started working at a shoe waterproof coating company. Although she revealed that she was a North Korean refugee, her interview went smoothly, and the boss and employees took care of her in many ways. Whenever they had time, they would give her useful information to help her settle, and gave employment incentives. However, after 3 years, with the company merging with another company, she had to leave.
At that time, for the first time, she began thinking about her future and realized that if she didn’t have skills, she would have to continue living like this, roaming around from one place to another.
She registered at a skin care academy, which is said to be preferred by women, earned her skin care professional license, and joined EO Korea. And four years later, she was assigned as the branch manager of Dr. Healux, a skin care shop run by the company.
However, after becoming the director, she realized it was different to being an employee because she had to be responsible for everything from sales to managing employees. In addition, there were criticisms coming from the staff, who murmured, “Why is a North Korean refugee the director?”. As a manager who had to oversee eight employees, this was a hurdle and problem she had to clearly address and overcome.
She brought the staff together and said in a firm tone. “If you don’t like the director, then you can leave. I can hire employees any time, and I can manage customers myself.”
She was a terribly hard worker, who did her best in her work and insisted on the best. The staff knew the kind of effort Ms. Lee had to show to get to this place. So, to suffer prejudice by such employees simply for the fact that she was a North Korean refugee was unacceptable.






Abandoning the prejudice against ‘prejudice’
One day, she was driving while on a two-day, one-night vacation with branch managers. Suddenly, she felt her right arm fall. It had been a while since her arm hurt, but she thought it was natural since her work required her to use her hands and arms a lot, so she had ignored it. When she went to the hospital, they told her that a nerve had ruptured, and if she continued with her work, she could lose her ability to use her arm.
Once again, she had to find a new job. She went to a OO funeral service company through an acquaintance’s introduction, but she was overtly faced with comments such as, “Are you from abroad? A North Korean? How are you supposed to deal with customers? I can’t work with you.” 
It was disconcerting, the comments coming from a team leader who criticized her while speaking with a Busan dialect, but she realized that every time things like this happened before, she had thought she was being discriminated against because she was from North Korea.
“You’re a North Korean. Obviously, because you’re from North Korea”. But it wasn’t false. It was true that she was from North Korea. It was also true that she was North Korean. “Right. I am from North Korea. It is also true that I am insufficient and incompetent. But judge and decide after giving me a chance. Give me a chance, too.” The tables had turned, as she coolly acknowledged the ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotype’ coming from the other side, which made them quiet.






Overcoming prejudice and becoming an indefinite contract worker
Not long ago, she was appointed as an indefinite contract worker (an intermediate form of employment between a contract and regular worker, where the contract period is guaranteed for an indefinite period) at the Yangsan Senior Club (an organization specializing in senior employment), where she is currently working. Two years ago, at the time of her joining, she was a two-year contract worker, but she has been recognized for her efforts and hard work. Actually, in a time of increased lifespan, as more social welfare services have been established, it is not an easy thing to find a job, even for those with licenses, especially with just one. Therefore, during the interview, she presented strengths of hers that she felt the senior club desperately needed.
“Director, I am a North Korean refugee. I speak Chinese well since I lived in China for a long time. I also have a Class 1 Large driver’s license. I can drive Starex and trucks.” It was a somewhat absurd self-introduction that prioritized relevant experience or qualifications, but for a company where most social workers are women, they really needed someone who could drive a truck or bus.
When she first started working, there were many difficulties. In particular, as social workers in senior clubs are in charge of everything from job planning, interviews, on-site investigations, and handling civil complaints to calculating salary according to the number of days worked and the job, all due to the nature of the institution they belong to, for social worker Lee Yu-rim, there was too much work she had to learn anew. In addition, since it was her first office job, she wasn’t skilled at handling computers. There were also times when she just felt discouraged and small, since she had to mind her employees, of which the majority were much younger than her.
There were some employees who would teach her one thing, ask if she understood and just stare at her, but none of that mattered more than the work. This year, she created a brand name and design called ‘Crunchy Rice Nurungji (scorched rice)’, which offers taste and health simultaneously, in relation to the manufacturing and sales business of nurungji that she had been in charge of.
When seniors who know that their worker in charge is a North Korean refugee ask her to tell her about North Korea, they often recall memories of their own hometown and empathize, smile, and say, “Right. That’s right. We did the same.” That is why as long as the company allows it, her wish is to stay at this place with the elderly for a long time.
On weekdays she works, and on the weekends, she exercises and cares for her health, while additionally volunteering on a regular basis. After obtaining a hairdresser’s license, she started hairdressing services for senior citizens in nursing homes from 2009. In 2019, she formed the ‘New Hope Volunteer Corps’ with nine alumni who attended cyber college together. They are doing regular volunteer work at a welfare center in Busan.
Social worker Lee Yu-rim revealed that if the opportunity arises, she wants to engage in Hope Peace volunteer activities that provide comfort and consolation to terminal patients so that they can die comfortably with dignity. Positive thoughts and overflowing energy always provide her with beautiful thoughts and a happy daily life. 

 

The majority of North Korean refugees who have settled in South Korea say that the most difficult problem during the settlement process is ‘prejudice’. Some say they faced prejudice because they are North Korean refugees, others because of cultural differences, and some because of their accent.