Researcher Spotlight: Joyce Kim

October 21st, 2016

Joyce Kim, Junior Researcher 2015-2016
Education: B.A. University of Pennsylvania
Hometown: Allen, TX

Can you tell FKAR about your research? Does it relate with North Korean Defectors?
My research ended up going into two different strands:

Design Thinking Applied to NKD Education Programs
There are many government-assisted and NGO-run programs to facilitate the challenging resettlement process for defectors. However, the majority of these programs are designed without the end user (defector youth) in mind. Many of these programs also have alternative motivations that are religious and political. Among these programs, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is one of the few non-partisan, non-ethnic and non-religious groups that seek to help North Korean defectors. Embodying their non-affiliated status is their motto of “people over politics”, which emphasizes their orientation towards the North Korean people versus other NGOs’ approaches. LiNK seeks to provide continuous guidance and assistance to resettling North Koreans in a holistic fashion. Because of LiNK”s unique characteristics within the landscape of North Korea-related NGOs and government organizations, it makes for a compelling case study in answering this question: How do we create effective resettlement education programs for North Korean defector youth?

Using ethnographic methods and design research, I use LiNK as a case study to understand how education programs can be created for unique populations such as resettling North Korean defector youth. I argue that LiNK’s focus on defectors as individuals with potential versus a politicized minority group within South Korea are a best-practice perspective. The implications of this project include the utility of design research methods in targeting the needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations. The findings of this case study offer a unique approach to addressing the needs of North Korean defectors – an important policy issue in South Korea.


Political Resocialization of NKD Millennials
With a population of nearly 30,000 individuals, North Korean defectors are a unique population in South Korea. Currently, the ROK government spends $105 million annually to aid with defector resettlement. Yet, existing literature has pointed to the many difficulties defectors have adjusting to South Korea society. Defectors struggle with educational attainment, economic advancement, and mental health issues. Furthermore, the stark contrasts between the political systems of their past and present environments affect defectors’ self-conceptualization of citizenship in relation to the South Korean sense of nationalism. However, a small number of defectors have attained global prominence by sharing their personal accounts of human rights violations and by sending information into North Korea. Media coverage of these prominent defectors strongly influences public perception of defectors at-large. Through analyzing the results of twenty-one qualitative interviews with North Korean defector millennials, I argue that the pervasive coverage and activities of these globally prominent defectors promotes a homogeneous narrative of defectors amongst South Koreans. Such a narrative adversely affects the defector resettlement process. Further implications of the diversity of views in defectors’ resocialized political identities include the shifting landscape of South Korea’s national identity.

Why did you choose this research topic? What inspired you?
My paternal grandparents are from North Korea, so that’s where the interest originated. I wrote my college admissions essay on North Korean human rights and also wrote my undergraduate thesis on how South Korea’s education system perpetuates discrimination against North Korean defectors. Coming to South Korea to directly engage with the NKD community seemed like a natural next step.

That answers our second question about why you choose Korea.
Yes, my academic background (political science major, Korean studies minor) relates to my research topic and coming to Korea. I also thought as a Korean-American it would be neat to reconnect with my heritage. This year was the first time I was back in almost ten years.

Where do you hope to go from here? Where do you want to do your research and everything you’ve learned?
It’s really important that my research has some practical application. The education project is being adapted to how LiNK designs its education programs. As for the political resocialization program, assigned from the academic paper, I’m also planning to share my results through online articles (e.g. NK News- one of the largest independent news sources on NK)

In the short time, I’ll be doing a nonprofit fellowship next year in San Francisco.  I then want to go to grad school in international education. I plan to apply skills from this year and next year to become a professor who also applies her research to the relevant communities.

What do you like doing in your free time?
I enjoy traveling and exploring. I also like photography, biking, music festivals, contemporary art, body combat, and of course, reading.

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