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North Korean Defectors Aim to Tell Their Own Stories

Kang Nara prepares to film a YouTube video from her Seoul studio (video screengrab via VOA News)
Kang Nara prepares to film a YouTube video from her Seoul studio (video screengrab via VOA News)
North Korean Defectors Aim to Tell Their Own Stories
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Kang Nara is in her Seoul, South Korea studio preparing to record a YouTube program. The 23-year-old fled North Korea six years ago. Today, her YouTube channel has 20 million views. In her videos, she shares personal stories about life in North Korea. She talks about things such as women’s rights, clothing choices, and people who flee the country.

She says she is trying to show South Koreans a side of North Korea they may not have seen before.

In recent years, YouTube has seen a major rise in North Korean defector channels. North Koreans in the South have become more involved in telling their own stories. And they are getting lots of followers, said Sokeel Park. He is with the group Liberty in North Korea.

“There’s an appetite for broader stories, including about North Korean people, how they live their lives in a place which is so close to here but which is completely shut off,” he said.

This growing interest has also affected the film industry. Movies and shows have often represented North Koreans as dangerous or simple-minded.

More recently, the wildly popular television program “Crash Landing on You” tells of a North Korean soldier who falls in love with a South Korean girl. Many saw it as an unusually full image of the North.

'People are people'

In Seoul, a lighthearted play tells the story of a separated family. Members accidentally meet each other at the border separating the two Koreas.

Director Kang Je-kwon said that in the past, South Koreans may have looked down on North Koreans or made fun of the way they speak. But now more shows are trying to inform people about North Korea.

Tae-ho Lee was one of the performers in Kang's play. The actor said, "It’s not just about some political sides arguing about certain things. It’s not about that … people are people, and I think people in the South have generally really accepted that.”

But that acceptance only goes so far. And although defectors are getting more attention in the media, the attention is not always good.

Oh Jin-ha is an artist who defected from North Korea. He said many film producers in the South represent North Koreans as creatures different from other humans.

Back in her Seoul studio, Kang Nara is hopeful that can change.

She said that since North and South Korea have been separated for so long, it makes sense they would feel distant from each other. But, she said, she wants to narrow that gap with her YouTube channel.

She and other North Koreans in the South are choosing to take control of and share their stories as they know them.

I'm Ashley Thompson

William Gallo reported this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

studio - n. the building or room where an artist works

views - n. the number of people who have watched a (usually online) video

defector - n. a person who leaves their country, political party, organization, etc., and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

appetite - n. a desire or liking for something

lighthearted - adj. not serious

gap - n. a difference between two people, groups, or things