Interview: Jong Suk Lee, producer, Focal Point's 'A trip to the DMZ'

April 8th, 2009

'Haejung' on her field trip to the DMZ

The newest story in Wide Angle‘s web-only video series, Focal Point, travels with North Korean student defector and her high school class to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone between North and South Koreas). The subject is a 20-year-old young woman whose parents arranged her exodus from her home in North Korea around when she was 17. She now attends school in South Korea and is still adjusting to her new life on her own. Watch the video now–we did, and then had some follow-up questions, which Jong Suk Lee, one of the piece’s producers (along with Micah Fink) was kind to answer, below:

How many people leave/defect from North Korea every year?
JS Lee: 1000 ~ 1500 approximately.

How did ‘Haejung’ (not her real name) get out of North Korea? Did she walk, was she smuggled in a vehicle? What are common methods?
JS Lee: Mostly, defectors walk through the borderline [btw North Korea and China], and are smuggled in a vehicle as well. The ways of escaping are all different. In general, mixture of swimming, walking and sometimes getting a ride in a truck.

In the video, the subject is 20 years old, and is a high school senior. Is this common in South Korea? Is their education system longer, or was she just catching up?

JS Lee: No. It’s not common in South Korea at all. It’s just common only in North Korea Defector Schools in South Korea. Most of North Korean defector students are way behind the academic level comparing to normal South Korean students. Since she’s very smart, she’s just catching up well now. South Korean government gives a special condition to the North Korean defectors to go to University, but most of them don’t go to University, and find jobs instead.