There are not many college students that have an entire government that hates them, but that is not the case for 22-year-old Yeonmi Park. Yeonmi has a bright future ahead of her. She lives in South Korea, studies criminal justice, and travels the world. Yeonmi is also a defector from North Korea.
“Kim Jong-un doesn’t like me very much,” Yeonmi told one reporter during a New York Times interview.
Yeonmi escaped life under the regime in 2007. She, along with her mother, fled the country in the dampened, cold of the night. They did not have much time to think about the life they were leaving behind. Yeonmi could not spare a thought for her father, who was imprisoned, or a tear for her sister, who had fled the country without them. She knew that she must concentrate only on running without losing her footing and avoiding discovery.
The brave teen and her mother followed the lead of two human smugglers. Once they reached China, the men took advantage of the situation by attempting to rape Yeonmi. Her mother offered herself in place of her daughter, and they were both subsequently enslaved. Nearly three years later, Yeonmi and her mother were freed. They feared deportation to North Korea, knowing they would be executed in their home country. The duo then fled to South Korea.
The freedom and democracy they discovered there was something they believed to exist only in the western world. Yeonmi had never dreamed that she would be able to eat until she was full, of public utility services that were not rationed by the government, or even the freedom of expression.
“The regime in North Korea controls everything,” Yeonmi said. “They teach us only what they want us to know. They teach us that free-thinking societies, especially America, are bad. I can remember that my mother told me to hold my tongue and not even to whisper because the birds and mice could hear me. I sincerely believed Kim Jong-un could read my mind.”
Yeonmi learned to channel her bitterness and anger into something more positive. She wrote and released on Amazon a memoir of her harrowing journey to freedom, joined a think-tank, and now advocates for human rights around the globe.