Seoul, South Korea – Around 31,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Almost 71 percent of those defectors are female, most in their 20s and 30s.
Only a few take the most dangerous route through the Korean Demilitarized Zone that a North Korean soldier took late last year.
Most of North Koreans defect via the long and expensive journey that takes them into China after crossing the Yalu River.
The journey takes them to China’s southern border into Vietnam and Laos before they arrive in Thailand, from where they are often flown into South Korea.
Some even opt to go to the US, according to Liberty in North Korea, an NGO based in the US and South Korea.
But their arrival into South Korea does not signal an end to their worries and problems.
In part five of the series on North Korean defectors, Al Jazeera speaks to 24-year-old artist An Su-min, who fled North Korea as a teenager in 2011.
“Life in North Korea was very hard. I felt I’d have a better life if I was to leave that’s why I decided to leave.
“In North Korea, you don’t have any freedom of movement. There is almost no electricity. The culture is very restrictive. You have no freedom to wear what you want. It’s also a dictatorship, but I only learned about the concept of dictatorship after I came to South Korea.
“I don’t have any family in North Korea. My father died there. I was heavily influenced by him. He wasn’t a professional artist but drew some posters at home and taught some friends how to draw.
“Coming to South Korea was the easy bit. Adjusting to life here wasn’t easy. It was very difficult. But now I’m used to it, the language, the culture and the level of stress. I reached puberty after coming to South Korea, so that added a lot of stress in my life.
“Right now, I’m studying at college. After I graduate, I’ll be in a position to do stuff that I want to do. South Korea’s college degree is a big thing. We really need a degree to do well in life. That’s why I’m focusing my efforts on my studies right now.
“But afterwards, given my skills as an artist, I could also teach North Korean refugees in Europe and help them out. That’s my plan.
“People outside North Korea have this fascination about life in my country. But if you’re living in the North, and you spend your entire life there, it’s just a way of life. You know of no other way. You just get used to it.
“You don’t think seriously about dictatorship. Even if you know what that is, you consider it a natural part of your life.
“Would I ever go back? It’s dangerous. I’m stressed out here in South Korea but, no matter how much stress I’m under, I wouldn’t ever go back to North Korea.”
As told to Faras Ghani and Hae Ju Kang