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 CNN, CNBC, 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.
- 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)
- In Order to Live
It was fantastic. She was amazing [...] There were lots of tears, several standing ovations and a lot of touched people.”
In addition to her wonderful talk, Yeonmi was a gracious, humble, delightful guest of the College. ”
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.”