North Korean defector Yeonmi Park spoke about her experience fleeing her home country in Gaston Hall on Sunday in an event hosted by student group Truth and Human Rights in North Korea.
Park spoke about her life in North Korea as well as her defection, which took her to China and later to South Korea. Growing up, she was without many of the things Westerners take for granted, but her living situation was not yet dire.
“There was no Internet, but I was not starving,” Park said.
Park said her life changed after her father was arrested for illegal trading. In the wake of the arrest, Park’s mother was interrogated by the government for two years.
These experiences led Park to defect when she was 13 with the help of smugglers, and with the help of the embassy in China, she entered university life. Park said that after defecting, she identified as a South Korean, not wanting to reveal her past.
“I was so careful about my identity,” Park said.
Park was separated from her sister, who also defected, for seven years, and now that they have reunited, she said her goal is to help her sister adjust to life outside of North Korea.
“So now I am trying to tell her she is not the victim and she fought for her freedom and her life” Park said.
Park has become a media personality, and has said she hopes to share her story with as many people as she can.
“I decided to speak out and it became my kind of job,” Park said. “If I speak out, people will listen to me.”
The floor was later opened for a question-and-answer period in which guests asked Park about a range of topics, including what it was like to experience Western culture for the first time.
Halle Hagan (SFS ’18) said the program offered a chance to hear a firsthand account of what it was like to live in a communist nation.
“I have always been interested in North Korea and other communist regimes, particularly because North Korea is one of the last couple that we have as modern day communist regimes and it was really fascinating to hear Yeonmi’s speech,” Hagan said. “I thought that she was really an inspiration,w especially as a young person for us to look up to as an example of someone who has used her experiences to do good and promote certain ideas throughout the world.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Park defected at age 23. She was 13.