New language creates new ambitions
she wondered what kind of world existed beyond the border. After leaving North Korea in 2007 at the age of 19, she stayed in China and then came to South Korea in 2008.
After finishing high school in South Korea, Serena started to work at the demilitarized zone. That’s when she realized the need to study English. She was meeting foreigners regularly who asked about North Korea.
“I made up my mind to study English to interact with the foreigners who showed interest in me,” she says, “and in frustration over people in the South who were rather cold because I was from North Korea.”
While in England, Serena kept wondering why these foreigners living so far away, even British government officials, seemed to care about North Korea.
“Koreans actually don’t care much about either unification or human rights in the North, which was my impression in the South,” she says. “But they [the foreigners] did.”
Lee Jeong-hyeok, another EFF student sent to England this summer, fled the North with his family in 2003 when he was 13. He said his family concluded that no hope was left in the country because it didn’t have a good family background, which is necessary for a decent life.
As far as he remembers, Lee had two English classes a week during middle school but had no motivation to learn the language. He merely studied to get a good grade to get into a good high school.
When asked what surprised him the most in England, he said “diversity” — so many different types of people living together — along with free museums.
As a communication major at Sogang University, Lee Jeong-hyeok wants to be a documentary producer and keeps studying English to learn about broadcasting in other countries. If he becomes a documentary producer, he said he would like to produce programs that help people understand the cultures of the two Koreas.
“It looks like there are some entertainment programs that try to eliminate a gap between the two countries,” Lee Jeong-hyeok said. “But I would like to produce rather serious documentaries about social unification if the Koreas are unified.”
Lee Guen-hyuck has two dreams. For his career, he wants to study human resources so he can be an advisor to South Korean companies on how to train people from the North.
But ultimately, he dreams of reuniting with the friends he left behind and building a nation where they can live together.
“A community is where I would feel happiness; a community where not only my family, but my friends and relatives would live together,” he says.
Lee said many countries seem to be losing community feelings, and close neighborhood relationships are disappearing.
“When I was there, having a TV was not very common in North Korea, so it was a boring environment if an individual spent their time alone. People tended to share their time with people around them,” he says. “That was the driving force of their happiness amid poverty.”
Serena didn’t think about a dream when she was in the North, aside from getting married and having children.
“But I came to South Korea and people kept asking me, ‘What is your dream?’” she says.
Now she wants to be an interpreter of Chinese, English and Korean to prepare for reunification.
“I want to play a concrete role in society if the Koreas unify someday,” she says. “I have experienced these countries — the two Koreas, China and Britain — and I believe I will be an ace interpreter of these languages.”