Learning lives of young adult North Korean defectors: Identity reconstruction within everyday life

Open Access
Park, Hyewon
Graduate Program:
Lifelong Learning and Adult Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 10, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Fred M. Schied, Dissertation Advisor
  • Fred M. Schied, Committee Chair
  • Davin J. Carr-Chellman, Committee Member
  • Adnan A Qayyum, Committee Member
  • Soo-Yong Byun, Outside Member
  • Young adult North Korean defectors
  • Identity reconstruction
  • Cultural-Historical Activity Theory
  • Adult education
There has been a rapid increase in the number of North Korean defectors (NKDs) entering South Korea, and the remarkable trend of NKDs is their demographic transition; the defectors in their 20s and 30s now constitute a majority among NKDs in South Korea. In this sense, this study aims to explore North Korean young adult defectors’ (referred to here as “North Korean Millennials”; NKMs) identity reconstruction process within their daily activities in South Korea. Using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as a theoretical framework, this study provided the analysis of how NKMs interact with sociocultural and historical mediations, reconstructing their identity in particular within their daily life activities and how they learn from the activities. An ethnographic approach was used to examine 11 NKMs’ daily activities to reconstruct identity in the South. This study identified four activities of NKMs within their everyday life in the South for reconstructing identities: the adaptation activity, the enculturation activity, the self-development activity, and the reunification preparation activity. As the outcomes of the daily activities in this study, the NKM participants reconstructed their identity as the active learner, independent and confident person, scaffolding for next NKD generation, and mediator and contributor for preparing reunification. By establishing their identities and roles, they made plans and goals for their future life and career within the wide consideration of national development. This study concluded with academic and practical implications and suggestions.