Yeonmi Park on North Korea: “I Thought the Regime Could Hear All”

Yeonmi Park is a beautiful and educated young woman. She wrote a memoir and enrolled in the criminal justice program at Dongguk University in South Korea. Yeonmi was also employed at a think-tank. All of this before the age of 23. Behind all of this lies a story, a harrowing tale of hope and survival. Yeonmi defected from North Korea, was a child-bride. Yeonmi was born in 1993, a time when famine swept North Korea. Many families survived by eating only rice, grass, and whatever they could forage from the local landscape. Yeonmi’s family was no exception. Her survival was in peril following her father’s arrest and imprisonment. “It was not an easy life,” Yeonmi said. “But we did not know differently. The government controlled everything. We knew only what they taught us. I was taught that the regime could hear my thoughts and all of my words.” Yeonmi’s parents wanted better for their children. Yeonmi’s sister, Eunmi, was the first to flee North Korea, despite the fact that she was supposed to leave with her mother and sister. Yeonmi and her mother were guided by smugglers. “We came through forests and mountains,” Yeonmi recalled. “I hurt so bad and I was crying, but I knew I must keep running.” When Yeonmi and her mother reached China, one of the men attempted to rape Yeonmi. Her mother offered herself in place of her daughter. The two were then enslaved. Yeonmi was forced to marry and was often raped. Years later, Yeonmi and her mother were able to leave China and set out for South Korea. The journey took months, but Yeonmi was overwhelmed by what she found. “I had no concept of what freedom was,” she recalled on youtube. “We did not know many of these words and jobs. They didn’t exist in North Korea. We did not know democracy; I felt just blessed enough to have food.” Yeonmi enrolled in college, but spent her first year feeling the pain and bitterness of her past. She threw herself into her studies, pushing everyone and everything else aside. It was her studies of Gandhi and Mandela which taught her the concept of compassion. Yeonmi has since become a human rights activists, speaking out against North Korea whenever she can.