Forum – May 13, 2016

Joyce Kim

This study seeks to understand North Korean defectors’ political resocialization. As an immigrant group, North Korean defectors face unique circumstances within political resocialization. Defectors share the same ethnicity as South Koreans. However, they come from a country with a vastly different political, economic, and ideological system that has been in place for nearly seventy years. Such differences have an impact; on defector’s adjustment upon arrival in South Korea. Furthermore, the defector population is a marginalized minority group in South Korea. They have difficulty with educational attainment, economic advancement, and mental health issues when adjusting to life in South Korea. Differing ideological upbringing and marginalization affect defectors’ self-conceptualization in relation to political ideologies and attitudes.

Despite North Korean defectors’ status as a marginalized group, defectors are a politicized minority group because of the current state of war between the two Koreas. Some defectors have even emerged as political activists. They testify on North Korean human rights violations on the international stage and are brought in to share stories of North Korea during South Korean military training. They lead organizations like the North Korean People’s Liberation Front (NKPLF), Free NK Radio, and the North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC). Politically motivated activities within these groups range from balloon propaganda campaigns, radio broadcasts, and USB smuggling into North Korea. The actions and activities of defector political activists and defectors political activist groups are covered in South Korean media. Because TV, radio, and the news are the primary mediums through which South Koreans find out information about North Korean defectors, coverage of defector political activists influences the perceptions of South Koreans of North Korean defectors.

This study seeks to understand how North Korean defector’s status as a politicized minority group affects the political resocialization process of North Korean defector university students. Previous scholarship has shown that defectors align with the conservative political parties, such as the Saenuri Party or the Liberty Forward Party, with nine out of ten defectors voting for a candidate from this faction in 2012; however, defectors who are in their 20s and 30s had low support for conservative parties, comparable to their South Korean peers. Although there is ongoing debate on the activities of defector political activists and organizations, there is a literature gap on the political resocialization process, including attitudes and ideologies of early adult North Korean defectors.

Through analyzing 21 semi-structured interviews, Joyce argues that the work of defector political activists promotes a homogenizing narrative of defectors among South Koreans. This narrative that is inconsistent with the reality of defectors holding diverse political views, insofar as early adult North Korean defectors viewing the activities of defector political activists as negative. As a result, understanding the diversity of views in defectors’ political resocialization and ideologies is necessary when crafting resettlement and reunification policies regarding defectors.

Joyce Kim graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2015 with a B.A. in political science and minors in Korean studies and urban studies. Her undergraduate thesis was on how the South Korean education system impacted values and perceptions of South Korean students towards North Korean defectors. During her Fulbright year, she was affiliated with the Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University. She also spent time working with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). To read more about her experiences during her Fulbright year, check out her blog (