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Outside Hanawon, the North Koreans face steep challenges. South Koreans once welcomed defectors as heroes, but attitudes changed as more arrived. Many are now seen as yokels. The government pays companies that employ defectors half their wages as an inducement to integrate them into South Korean life.

Ms. Choi, one of four defectors made available to reporters on Thursday, said she worries that “South Koreans will see me differently” and distinguish her by her North Korean accent.

Defectors also face financial problems despite government help. Many must use their wages or resettlement fees to pay back brokers who facilitated their escape. Others send cash to relatives back home.

Ms. Kim said she sends money home from a monthly government stipend of about $315 via people in China, who smuggle it across the border.

“North Korean guards earn, so they don’t rat on them,” she said, and couriers and guards take a 30 percent cut.

Ms. Choi and Ms. Kim said they fled in hopes of achieving a more prosperous life that they knew existed in the South, despite North Korean propaganda.

Ms. Kim said she had seen South Korean soap operas on TV picked up from signals in nearby China. Ms. Choi said she saw a magazine article about South Korea while visiting China.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are thought to have visited China in search of food over the past decade, with most returning home and bringing word of better conditions both in China and South Korea. However, Ms. Choi said, “it’s not like everyone in North Korea gets the chance to see images of South Korea.”

As for the current crisis, Ms. Kim said, “I felt nothing when I saw news of the [October 2006] nuclear test” and apparently was similarly unimpressed by the second one on Monday.

“Privileged people in North Korea would be thrilled, but for the poor, it’s no change,” she said.