CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Neither Here nor There: Education, Citizenship, and the Failed Integration of North Korean Defectors in South Korea

Joyce J. Kim, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Alex Weisiger

Date of this Version: 30 March 2015



Despite sharing a cultural and historical background with South Koreans, North Korean defectors have difficulty integrating within South Korean society. This paper seeks to address the factors in South Korean society that make integration difficult for defectors. Specifically, what is the relationship between education and the formation of values and attitudes of South Koreans towards North Korean defectors?

This study argues that North Korean defectors cannot successfully integrate into South Korean society because 1) South Korean cultural attitudes embrace the hanminjok ideology that makes it difficult for defectors to acquire cultural citizenship and 2) the South Korean social- efficiency education system does not prioritize cosmopolitanism but rather implicitly promotes ethnocentrism. Evidence from textbooks and interviews with students educated in South Korea provide substantial support for this argument. Interviews also revealed the impact that military education and socialization had in perpetuating negative sentiments towards defectors. The findings of this paper have several implications. While textbook analyses show that there have been efforts towards incorporating cosmopolitanism, these efforts are undercut by ethnocentric ideology. First, the South Korean government should reconcile the contradictions between cosmopolitanism and ethnocentrism within the national curriculum. Second, if the South Korean government wants to have the possibility of successful reunification, then it should re-examine its commitment to cosmopolitan education.


Asian Studies | International and Comparative Education | Political Science

Suggested Citation

Kim, Joyce J., "Neither Here nor There: Education, Citizenship, and the Failed Integration of North Korean Defectors in South Korea" 30 March 2015. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 28 May 2015




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