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North Korean refugees speak out: 'My Hanawon experience' (3)

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Hanawon. Korea Times file
On July 8, 1999, the South Korean government opened the Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees, often referred to as "Hanawon." In the past two decades, more than 32,000 North Korean refugees have made it to South Korea, with almost every refugee passing through Hanawon. In the lead-up to a July 7 forum marking Hanawon's 20th anniversary, TNKR began asking North Korean refugees about their Hanawon experiences. This is part 3. Please check here for parts 1 and 2. ― ED.
Casey Lartigue Jr.
Jihyun, female, escaped from North Korea in 2012, arrived in South Korea in 2017

Hanawon was so good. It was really a great introduction to life in South Korea. I learned so many things. There were so many people there from different parts of North Korea.

I was never bored when I was there. The program was so good. It seemed that every day I was getting shocked and surprised about things I was learning about South Korea. The best part was when we were allowed to visit a South Korean home. We got to learn about life here. I enjoyed that so much and will never forget it.

I had seen South Korea in so many TV dramas, a few when I was in the North and many when I was in China. And it was really happening, I was in a South Korean home, I was meeting South Koreans directly. Sometimes I felt that I was in a movie.

My tough time came after I left Hanawon. Suddenly I was by myself. I didn't have any family here, so it was a tough time.

I had spent five years in China, so things weren't completely new to me. One thing I didn't learn at Hanawon that they should stress is the importance of contracts. In North Korea, you can just ignore the law, the person with the most power will win a dispute. When I escaped from China........

© The Korea Times