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Yeonmi Park
 North Korean Defector
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Yeonmi Park
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Twenty-three-year-old human rights activist and North Korean defector Yeonmi Park is fast becoming a leading voice of oppressed people around the world. At the 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum and the One Young World Summit in Dublin, she became an international phenomenon, delivering passionate and deeply personal speeches about the brutality of the North Korean regime. Her escape from North Korea has given the world a window into the lives of its people. The BBC named her one of their Top Global Women.

Born in Hyesan, North Korea, Yeonmi grew up in a society devoted to the worship of Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il and hatred for enemies of his regime. However, after watching a pirated copy of the film Titanic, the veil of tyranny began to fall. Yeonmi had caught a glimpse of a free world that one day she would yearn to join.

In 2002, Yeonmi’s family suffered a crucial blow. Her father, who smuggled gold, nickel, and silver, before being caught, was tortured and sentenced to 10 years in a forced labor camp. After his early release on medical leave, the family decided they had to flee North Korea, but became separated before they could escape together. In 2007, Yeonmi and her mother crossed a frozen river into China, hiding from Chinese authorities who would return them to North Korea. Two years later, they reached the Mongolian border and spent a freezing night in the Gobi desert, dodging patrols and crawling through barbed wire to seek refuge to South Korea.

Yeonmi has taken it upon herself to tell the story of millions, urging the world to recognize the oppressed people of Kim Jong-Un’s reign. She believes that change will come through young people like herself, whose exposure to capitalism and Western media is eroding the authority of the Kim dynasty.

Currently a student at Columbia University, Yeonmi has published an op-ed about North Korea’s “Black Market Generation” in the Washington Post, and has been featured on CNNCNBC, and the BBC, as well as in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom,  Yeonmi's memoir about her escape from North Korea, was released in the fall 2015. 

Full Bio >
  • Life as a Refugee: A Simple Request from Our North Korean Friends (2014)
  • TEDx: Nothing is Forever: Yeonmi Park's Story (2014)
  • BBC News: I escaped death in North Korea (2014)
  • I am a North Korean Millennial (2014)
  • Portrait Of A Generation (2015)
  • CNN: Park Reveals North Korean Horrors (2014)
Load More
Speaking Topics
Shining Light on the Darkest Place in the World: Inside North Korea
In Order to Live: My Journey to Freedom
Driving Change: How North Korea’s Millennials are Transforming Their World
Books & Other Works
  • In Order to Live
““Yeonmi's speech is amazing because of how her story adds a human element to the issues surrounding North Korea. Her experiences and her willingness to share them have a deep impact on those who listen and most importantly, can have people relate to the issue. Her speech changed the perspective of many people at Smith. Yeonmi's story is truly captivating and opened my eyes to see the issues of the people in North Korea. It challenged me to see beyond the scope of what media offers.””
Smith College
“She is, first and foremost, a delight to host and a truly good soul. Wow. What a great woman.

It was fantastic. She was amazing [...] There were lots of tears, several standing ovations and a lot of touched people.”
DePauw University
“Yeonmi Park hit it out of the park with her story of unbelievable courage, tenacity, and strength. Her survival and rise to world recognition gave us a window into the lives and atrocities faced by the North Korean people. On a personal note, Yeonmi is a beautiful, young woman and the youngest speaker we have had at the podium in Portland for the VOICES Lectures. We laughed, we cried and at times, could have heard a pin drop as the audience was so intent on listening to Yeonmi’s story. Thank you for again bringing us a great speaker. Two Standing Ovations!”
“She was great Sunday evening. We got a big crowd, and they were astonished by her story, her poise, her strength and her sense of humor. She received a standing ovation.”
The Foxhowe Association
“Wow. We are all still flying high after Yeonmi’s presentation on Thursday. She did a remarkable job. We had standing room only in our 400+ seat auditorium. I literally had to step over people. As expected, her story was compelling. But unexpectedly, her delivery was at times humorous, heartwarming, gut wrenching. There were times when the applause and laughter was booming and other times when you could have heard a pin drop. She received a standing ovation. Yeonmi’s message of freedom was an absolutely perfect representation of the programming provided by our Center.

In addition to her wonderful talk, Yeonmi was a gracious, humble, delightful guest of the College. ”
University of Louisville
“I really cannot say enough positive things about Yeonmi's visit.

She was so incredibly generous with her time with the students. It was truly wonderful to see Korean and Chinese students line up to meet her after her all-school talk. They were so thrilled to hear her speak in their native languages with them.

The member of the local police department who was part of her security on campus spoke with me as Yeonmi was signing books that evening. He was singing her praises, calling her "a class act" and expressed how touched he was to see her speak with the kids in the way she did. He didn't know of her story before and said he's adding her book to his reading list.”
Cushing Academy
Common Read
First Year Experience
Human Rights
North Korea
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