NORTH KOREAN defectors that have left the state commonly tell stories of a perilous journey crossing the Chinese-North Korean border, through the Amnok River and another voyage through China. In seeking asylum in South Korea, some departed as a 10-year-old child and others left their family in the North. Upon arriving here, the defectors soon face another unexpected challenge: settling down in a similar yet completely different environment. Sabujak, the Yonseian-led podcast program by Project Jieum, invites North Korean defectors to speak about their experiences. These range from everyday cultural differences to concerns about their sense of identity as a North Korean in the South. In order to find out more about their mission and endeavors, The Yonsei Annals sat down with Sabujak producer Lee Jung-a (Soph., UIC, Dept. of Economics) and production crew Hong Jeung-yeon (Soph., Dept. of Business Admin.), Park Byung-sun (Sr., Dept. of Business Admin.), Jin Soo-min (Sr., Dept. of Public Admin.), and Kim Yeong-wook. (Jr., Dept. of Business Admin.)
Annals: Could you briefly introduce Project Jieum and the Sabujak podcast?
Lee: Jieum is a Yonseian-led project that helps North Korean defectors “adjust to South Korean society” through various enterprises related with media content. It is one of the five projects within Enactus, the Yonsei social start-up club, an organization that aims to achieve social innovation through sustainable business models. One of our enterprises is a podcast with approximately 700 subscribers, titled Sabujak. Sabujak is short for “friendly dining table with North Korean friends” in the Korean language. We aim to bring the defectors closer to South Korean society, providing conversations with defectors and their diverse stories to our listeners.
Annals: How was Project Jieum founded?
Lee: The founding members first met up with North Korean students on campus through a club called the Yonsei Tongil Hanmadang, and befriended new defectors through various events hosted by the club. After chatting, eating, and drinking with them, they felt the need to inform others that these defectors are not so different from us.
Project Jieum began when its founding members were brainstorming ideas for an enterprise that aims to help in-need social groups. Among numerous topics, the defectors’ identity issue resonated with them the most. In fact, the defectors’ reluctance to identify and express themselves as a North Korean in the South is causing them to experience low levels of self-esteem. This contributes to a widespread identity crisis among them that the project aiming to resolve.
We began to approach the issue with Enactus’s mission, “to resolve social affairs in a sustainable manner by using business methods.” We chose to start a podcast to introduce defectors to protect their anonymity, and thus Sabujak was born.
Annals: What are the overall objectives of Project Jieum?
Lee: Project Jieum works with the mission slogan, “I’m from North Korea, so what?” Ultimately, our aim is to create a society where they can feel comfortable about revealing themselves as a defector. By designing, producing, and distributing various contents, we provide many people with a chance to be touched by the experiences of North Korean defectors. Through this experience, we hope to encourage a positive public perception of defectors.
Annals: How is an episode of the Sabujak podcast produced?
Lee: First, we have to cast the North Korean defectors who will participate in the interview. Many of them are introduced to the podcast by the defectors that were previously on the show. We also get help from organizations that help them such as the Hana Nanum Association and Woorion. After the guests are cast, we conduct pre-interviews with them. This is to inform the defectors of the possible persecution their family members and relatives remaining in North Korea may face. Based on the pre-interviews, we form the outline of the episode and record on a day when the guest is available.
Since Sabujak assumes the concept of a conversation around the dinner table, the guests have a nickname that is put together by combining their home region and the name of a dish. (Ex. “Pyeongyang Cold Noodle”, “Musam Frozen Potato Rice-cake”, “Dancheon Jjak-tae*”) We use nicknames instead of the guests’ real names to provide anonymity, minimizing the potential harm that could reach their relatives in the North.
Sabujak is comprised of four parts in total, each part starring one defector guest. Part 1 deals with the guest’s hometown and the food associated with that town, and part 2 with North Korea’s society and culture told vividly through the guest’s experiences. Part 3 discusses why the guest left North Korea and their escape experience, and part 4 covers how the guest is adjusting to life in the South. The final part discusses the guest’s self-identity as a NK defector, along with our vision to relieve their identity crisis.
Annals: What are some of your most memorable moments during the production of the Sabujak podcast?
Park: It’s the greatest feeling when guests hesitate to appear on the show at first, but later say that they made the right choice after recording. That warms my heart.
Hong: One guest who went by the name “Gyeongseong Ppobaege**” on our show told us that he still misses his brother he had left behind in the North. The episode where he said he writes about those feelings as a writer comes to my mind.
Jin: When I took part in a recording for the first time, my heart dropped upon hearing “Musan Frozen Potato Rice-cake” vividly talk about his escape, in tears. That incident comes first to mind.
Kim: I have a close acquaintance who subscribes to our podcast. The greatest moment I remember was when he showed interest and even affection for the stories of the defectors, and asked me about the behind-the-scenes stories of the production or stories that were not aired on the podcast. That made me realize our podcast does really touch the lives of South Koreans who never knew the life of our Northern counterparts.
Lee: Upon having real conversations with NK defectors for the first time, I thought that they were just not that different from us.
Annals: What is the future aim of Project Jieum, going into the first semester of 2019?
Lee: We have finished airing the first season of Sabujak. Our plan is to begin our second season in mid-March. In Season 2, we are planning to include chats with North Korean defectors about everyday topics and dilemmas as an additional segment. Even if you’re not that interested in North Korea or its defectors, you can enjoy these stories lightheartedly. Also, the production of a book based on season 1 of Sabujak is currently underway and the final product will be published within the first half of the year. We are planning to expand the project through additional content, like launching our own Youtube channel.
Annals: Do you have any final words for the readers of The Yonsei Annals?
Lee: Please subscribe to the Sabujak podcast, which is available through Naver Audioclip and Podbang. I imagine that the fact that you are reading this article indicates your interest in the North Korean defector issue. So please treat them in the future not with stares of prejudice, but a warm gaze of friendliness.
*Jjak-tae: A pollack removed of its intestines and then flatly dried
**Ppobaege: A type of North Korean seafood