It's interesting how the people around me remind me of things that I shouldn't be so ignorant about. I am studying abroad at Nanjing University at the moment, and I have a Chinese student as a roommate who is really interested in the linguistics of Asian languages. We were discussing the similarities in Chinese and Korean when she brought up the subject of communication between the Koreas. At the moment, I could only tell her that nearly all the North Koreans who defect to South Korea have trouble adjusting to the culture, and that even the language that they use--even though it technically is Korean--was very different from what we use in South Korea in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation. The example that I gave her was how South Koreans call ice cream "I-is-ce ke-reem" (아이스크림) and North Koreans call it "Eol-eum-bo-soong-ee" (얼음보숭이)--the literal translation would be "ice chunk" or "ice mass"--because North Korea does not have any words borrowed directly from foreign languages.
The article below better illustrates the plight of North Koreans in South Korea. While there is a dearth of counselors, psychologists, and caretakers who help North Koreans ease into South Korean society--South Korea is definitely not equipped to handle all the North Koreans if unification were to happen in the near future--I felt relieved that there are places that take care of defectors when they first come to South Korea. However, I also feel immensely sorry for them for all the troubles that they face when they arrive in the country that they worked so hard to come to. Maybe what they really need are South Korean friends who can talk to them and listen to their stories and grievances--I know that I won't ever be able to truly understand what they've been through, or make them forget about their families that they've left behind, but I think the least I can do is help them look to the present and future.
Read the Washington Post article "N. Korean Articles Bewildered by the South" here.
-- Submitted by Jeeyoon Yu (CAS '11)