There are over 33,000 North Korean refugees in South Korea as of 2019 and most of them are women. As the number of North Korea refugees in South Korea has been gradually increasing, North Korean refugees’ adjustment in the South Korean society became a social and political agenda. Female North Korean Refugees (FNKR) are known to have relative advantages in getting a job compared to men. However, FNKR encounter workplace discrimination as a woman and “immigrant”, and also struggle with the dual roles as a care giver and paid worker. However, previous studies have broadly focused on adaptation, and little qualitative research has been done that can provide us with in-depth understanding of FNKR’s occupational experiences, daily struggles. Therefore, this study aimed to explore occupational experiences of FNKR by examining challenges encountered during job seeking and adaptation phases, and to understand how they overcome challenges in workplace and family through in-depth interviews.
A qualitative study was conducted with 12 FNKR aged between 20 and 60 years who were successfully maintaining jobs in South Korea. Participants were recruited via fliers and referrals at the organizations for North Korean refugees in South Korea. Data were collected between November 2018 and January 2019 through semi-structured individual interviews. Audio data were transcribed word for analysis. Data were then analyzed using within-case analysis and cross-case analysis. Focus of the within-case analysis was to illustrate the adaptation process in the workplace, and the focus of the between-case analysis was to compare occupational experiences between the cases, and to find communalities and difference between the respondents.
Firstly, results show that FNKR had difficulties getting a job due to age discrimination, linguistic barriers, a lack of job qualifications, and prejudice against North Korean refugees, but they were able to overcome these obstacles by utilizing various strategies and official and personal resources. Secondly, they had difficulty succeeding in the workplace due to cultural differences, a lack of relevant abilities, discrimination, prejudice, poor working conditions, and difficulties in maintaining a work-life balance. Thirdly, the employment support system helped FNKR seek a job and maintain their employment status, but it was also negatively affecting their occupational live. Finally, engagement in professional work life had meanings to FNKR not just because it allowed them to achieve economic independence, but it provided FNKR with opportunities to develop their identity and to integrate into the South Korea's mainstream society. FNKR also believe that maintaining a career can eventually help them successfully settle down in South Korea
COUNCLUSIONS & IMPLICATIONS:
Purpose of this study was to understand describe FNKR’s work experiences and to explore factors that may help FNKR become successful at work. Results of this study showed that FNKR experience many challenges at work but the employment support system can promote them find a job. This study also showed that work gives meanings to FNKR’ life in South Korea. Thus, programs for FNKR in South Korea should focus on assisting them to find a job and improve self-efficacy in the workplace.