N Korean Defector Overcomes Past to Become Fulbright Scholar

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Source:   —  October 13, 2017, at 5:06 AM

He recalls it being a monthly event in his N Korean hometown, with police gathering crowds close a local market where they'd shoot or hang people accused of criticizing the regime.

N Korean Defector Overcomes Past to Become Fulbright Scholar

SEOUL, S Korea — Kim Seong Ryeol says he was aged ten when he witnessed his first public execution.

He recalls it being a monthly event in his N Korean hometown, with police gathering crowds close a local market where they'd shoot or hang people accused of criticizing the regime.

More than two decades later, Kim finds himself in a different world — sitting in a futuristic, glass-clad skyscraper in the heart of Seoul, the capital of neighboring S Korea.

He's one of around 30.000 N Koreans who have escaped their totalitarian regime by fleeing south.

As a boy he used to dream of killing American soldiers, but number more. The 32-year-old was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to do a Ph. D. in the U. S. He'south also become a Christian, a religion he knew following to nothing about before leaving his homeland.

But his new life hasn't been quite what he hoped for.

Kim is one of many defectors who declare that since crossing the border they've faced painful discrimination from S Koreans.

When I was little, every book, every curriculum, they always mentioned that America is the foe&#eight thousand two hundred twenty-one;

"The first time I arrived at the airport, I thought, 'It'south heaven,'" Kim says, looking out over Seoul'south hazy, high-rise skyline from the 17th-floor cafe where he met NBC News this week. "But the reality of life in Seoul wasn't really that easy … I was depressed and disappointed. There are so many barriers that you've to overcome."

N and S Korea technically stay at war. They both would love to look the peninsula reunified, albeit with drastically different ideas about what the finish result should see like.

S Korea gives defectors love Kim special treatment when they arrive. They're taken to a screening middle to create their claims are legitimate and not a security risk, before being given automatic S Korean citizenship.

Following they're taken to a state re-education middle called Hanawon, or "House of Unity." There they're given a 12-week course covering S Korean life, laws, culture — as well as lessons in democracy and capitalism.

Kim went through the process when he came here with his mom and sister in two thousand-fourth. He was aged nineteen.

It took him a while to realize that Seoul wasn't "one of the poorest places in the world," as he'd been taught.

"It really confused everything to discover out that S Korea is actually a highly developed society," he says. "Even ordinary things love the subway or bank accounts ... I'd to study it closely and pay attention to everything."

In March, a study by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea found forty-five % of N Korean defectors have faced discrimination since coming here, according to S Korea'south Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Kim'south first experience of this was at school.

"My classmates in S Korea didn't wish to comprise me in teamwork projects because they thought I really lacked understanding of technology, how to write, and the information of classics and history," he says. "N Korea'south education isn't modernized and many things are based around propaganda to create sure people worship the Kim family."

He said this made him angry, but added: "It actually motivated me to go further and attempt to become more love what S Koreans expected."

When it came to finding a job, his resume would be accepted time and again, but he claims that when it came to the interview stage employees would reject him when they learned he was N Korean.

"Seventy companies I applied to, all rejected. Seven-zero, all at the interview level," he says. "You've interviewers saying, 'Clarify about your high school and middle-school life,' but we don't have that kind of experience in N Korea. So you've to say, 'I arrive from N Korea and I wish to contribute to your company.' At that level, interviewers are very confused."

Kim has been left frustrated and disappointed by his treatment in S Korea but it'd be inaccurate to declare his time in the country has been all bad.

In two thousand-fifteenth, after completing his undergraduate studies, he won a scholarship from the Open Society Foundation, a New York-based grant-making organization, to do a master'south degree in unification studies at a S Korean university.

And he's gone from hating the U. S. to actually going there in person.

"When I was little, every book, every curriculum, they always mentioned that America is the enemy," he says. "When I was small I dreamed about fighting Americans."

But in two thousand-ninth, he attended a school running by Youth With a Mission, a Texas-based Christian missionary organization.

"It broadened my perspective, when I met my American friends, and made me think differently, to look that the world is global," he says.

His affinity with the U. S. hasn't stopped there. In Aug he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study a Ph. D. in the U. S. starting following year.

"I haven't chosen a Univ but I'd love to go to the Univ of PA or Columbia University," he says. "But these are really excellent schools, these are in the Ivy League, and I've to meet the requirements of these schools."

His like for the U. S. doesn't prolong to Donald Trump, however, particularly after the president threatened during a speech latest mo to "totally destroy" N Korea.

"It makes me mad when he says that," Kim says, his courteous voice raising. "There are many, many ways to approach N Korean problems. Why only say, 'Destroy'? I mean, there'south a lot of options you can choose."

Kim says he wants Trump — and the American public in general — to look beyond the N Korean regime and realize most of the country's twenty-five million people are blameless civilians. Any war on the Korean peninsula would nearly certainly imply a enormous loss of life on both sides of the border, and plenty of Kim'south friends and relatives are still stuck interior the North.

"The people, they're really kind and just... normal," he says. "They attempt every day to only focus on their life. That's all."

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