Defectors back home: Struggle of North Koreans in South Korea

Shao Zhong Li, Alexia Michalopoulou & Hongyun Piao

Student thesis: Master programme paper


As the number of North Korean defectors migrating to South Korea raised in recent years, to prepare for reunification, the South Korea government had launched resettlement programme and policies since the 90s.
In this project, we investigated the adaptation process of North Korean student-defectors, especially in re-learning the Korean language utilised in South Korea, to understand their struggles.
The documentary with the title, ‘Learning Liberty’ was chosen as our analytical object. It is produced by the Australian television broadcasting, SBS, and mainly filmed the student-defectors education life at the resettlement institute in South Korea.
The analytical framework of AVO(audio-visual data as an object of analysis) suggested by Figueroa(2008) was used to analyse the content of the documentary. To understand the context of the case, literature research about the historical and political background and their education system were carried out and explained in the report. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted to collect data that helps us understand the educational conditions in South Korea and perceptions of South Koreans on North Korea.
Theoretical ideas of social identity, neoliberalism, modernization and decolonisation were applied and related, to connect the present struggles of the student-defectors with the social-political context of the two Koreas.
We found out student-defectors struggle with the South Korean language, which changed greatly from the original Korean language. In the process of re-learning Korean, and adapting to the South Korean society, they are encouraged to dispose their identity as North Korean and transform to South Korean. They also face social stigmatization, in relation to their identity or socio-economic background.
In connection with their struggles, the historical background of the Cold War has played an important part in structuring the North and South Korea society and the worldview of people. And we argued that the influence of it persists in present days.

EducationsCultural encounter studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date18 Dec 2018
Number of pages40
SupervisorsPrem Poddar


  • North Korea
  • South Korea
  • defectors
  • resettlement programme
  • Hanawon
  • The Korean language
  • identity issue
  • The Cold War