navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History
feature logo Weekly Reader ® Current Events

A Chance for Freedom

Two brothers crept carefully through the mountains in China. The boys, along with their mother, sister, and aunt, had fled their home in North Korea. They hoped to find a better life in South Korea.

Like China, North and South Korea are countries in Asia. If the Chinese police had found the family, they would have sent them back to their country where they would have been punished or even killed.

The brothers, Young Hoon and Young Jun, and their family members, walked, rode in cars, and flew on an airplane to reach South Korea. Their journey took about a year.

They were lucky. There are about 200,000 to 300,000 North Koreans now hiding in China. But only about 2,000 of them are expected to make it to South Korea this year.

A New Life

Young Hoon, Young Jun, and their family members risked their lives to reach South Korea. Why? If they had stayed in North Korea, they faced starvation. Many North Korean children are hungry because their families cannot find food. In fact, over the past 10 years, about two million people in North Korea have starved to death.

About a year after their arrival, the brothers say they are happy in Seoul, the busy capital city of South Korea. They go to the Hannuri School. The school has a program for teens who have left North Korea and have come to South Korea to start new lives.

Teachers at Hannuri help the North Koreans with their schoolwork. Many of the teens did not go to school regularly in North Korea, so they are behind in their studies.

Worlds Apart

Even though North and South Korea are neighbors, the two countries are very different. North Korea is very poor. Its leader spends most of the country's money on the army, not on food for the people.

South Korea is more like the United States. The country has enough food for everyone, and most people drive cars, go to work, and eat at restaurants.

Young Hoon, 18, and Young Jun, 15, say that in North Korea they lived in a hut and ate mostly corn and potatoes. In South Korea, their lives are much different. The brothers live in an apartment and eat different food. They love movies and video games.

Hope for the Future

The brothers tell me about their plans for the future. Young Hoon wants to be a pilot. Young Jun wants to help people. They also hope to do something they never could have even dreamed of while living in North Korea. They want to visit the United States.

Young Jun is already prepared to visit. An American he met on his way to South Korea gave him a U.S. dollar. Despite plenty of opportunities to spend the money in South Korea, Young Jun has kept it. After all, he tells me, he's going to need it when he gets to the United States.