Young US-based North Korean Refugees Balance Education and Employment
Have you ever wondered how many North Korean refugees are currently living in the U.S.?
As of November 2016, approximately 400.
The chances of meeting one is extremely unlikely, as they make up a microscopic 0.000001 percent of the total U.S. population.
However, thanks to in-depth interviews conducted in 2016, we have a rare opportunity to gain a better understanding of a few young U.S.-based North Korean refugees.
The American resettlement system emphasizes fast-tracked self-sufficiency, a stark contrast to substantial benefits and assistance provided by the South Korean government. According to a 2016 report by the George W. Bush Institute, North Korean refugees who choose to resettle in the United States rather than South Korea generally express a greater tolerance for risk and hardship. These individuals choose America because they believe that the country provides better prospects for rapid economic and social progress.
Young refugees see education as an important factor to successful resettlement, prioritizing English-language acquisition first, followed by college and technical skills. However, while being pushed along an expedited path toward self-sufficiency, education prospects are quickly overshadowed by the need to pursue employment. Young refugees attempting to learn English from scratch face the prospect of long hours and low-paying jobs while prioritizing education around their work schedule.
For older refugees, an important component of their new life in America is financially helping their relatives in North Korea. Meanwhile, young, unmarried refugees with relatively fewer family obligations have the potential to attend college and pursue their academic aspirations. For many, regardless of how they choose to define success, a sense of personal achievement transcends the disadvantages of their background.
What can we do?
The sharp trade-off between immediately supporting themselves financially and pursuing an education doesn’t sound too different from the struggles faced by American millennials entering adulthood. HKC has committed to supporting our fellow millennial refugees by doing what millennials do best: raise awareness on social media. We're on a mission to get American millennials aware of the 400 #NKrefugees residing in the U.S., and we can't do it without your help. Like and share #NKrefugees content or simply tag your friends in the comment section. With your help, we can create a more socially conscious generation.