In a candid interview with Voice of America’s “탈북민의 세상보기” (Insight into the Lives of North Korean Defectors), Jang Hyuk, a former researcher under North Korea’s Central Party Science Education Department, shared his unique journey from the scientific corridors of North Korea to becoming an advocate for digital freedom and democracy after settling in South Korea in 2020.
Educational Background and Professional Struggles in North Korea
Jang Hyuk, who graduated from the Science and Mathematics Department of a North Korean science university, began his career as a researcher under the Central Party’s Science Education Department. His experience, however, took a turn when he found himself at odds with the decisions made for his professional trajectory within the state-run research institute.
Reflecting on his time in North Korea, Jang Hyuk emphasized the lack of autonomy and the absence of a consultation process regarding career decisions. This realization, coupled with the challenging environment, fueled his determination to break free, ultimately leading to his decision to defect.
Challenges in South Korea’s IT Sector
Upon settling in South Korea, Jang Hyuk faced new challenges in adapting his North Korean-acquired skills to the rapidly evolving landscape of the South Korean IT sector. He highlighted the disparities between the two countries’ technological advancements and the difficulties in finding a job aligned with his expertise.
Jang Hyuk expressed that while North Korea has been making attempts in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) for the past decade, the lack of resources and equipment poses significant hurdles for meaningful progress. Despite these challenges, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Data Science at Seoul National University.
Adapting to Life in South Korea
Having spent over 30 years in North Korea, Jang Hyuk acknowledged the lingering impact of his North Korean upbringing on his daily life in South Korea. He shared his struggles with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), manifested in moments of suspicion and the habit of self-censoring his online activities, a reflection of the constant surveillance he experienced in North Korea.
Despite the material improvement in living conditions, Jang Hyuk conveyed that true happiness is elusive, primarily due to emotional instability resulting from the traumatic experiences in North Korea. He emphasized the need for time and stability to fully integrate into South Korean society.
Advocacy for North Korean Human Rights and Digital Freedom
Jang Hyuk, along with his academic pursuits, has actively engaged in activities advocating for North Korean human rights and digital freedom. He stressed the importance of addressing the dire living conditions in North Korea, asserting that the people should have the right to understand the world as it truly is.
Expressing his hopes for the future, Jang Hyuk emphasized the necessity of true digital freedom in North Korea. He envisioned a scenario where the residents could perceive the world as it is, free from the state’s influence and with the ability to make informed choices about their own lives.
As Jang Hyuk continues his studies and advocacy work, he remains committed to contributing to the larger dialogue on North Korean issues, digital freedom, and the pursuit of happiness for defectors in South Korea. His story stands as a testament to resilience and the ongoing struggle for a better, more informed future for North Koreans.
Source: VOA Korea