Growing Up in the Hermit Country: Why One Family Fled North Korea

Yeonmi Park is a bright and beautiful young woman. She is a college student, an author, and a human rights activist. Unlike most people her age, Yeonmi is a defector. She and her family fled the rule of Kim Jong-un and turned their backs on North Korea.

Yeonmi, today, enjoys a comfortable life in Seoul, South Korea. Life wasn’t always joyous for Yeonmi and her family. The Parks lived near Hyesan where Mr. Park worked as a civil servant, and Mrs. Park worked as a nurse while Yeonmi and her older sister, Eunmi, attended school.

“We were only taught what the regime wanted or us to know,” Yeonmi reflected. “We did not learn things like one apple minus one apple is zero apples. They taught us if there are five American ambassadors and North Korea killed four, how many American ambassadors are left?”

Yeonmi and her family were subjected to the cruel tactics of the Kim regime. Yeonmi was raised to keep her thoughts, opinions, and emotions well-guarded.

“My mother told me that the birds could hear me,” Yeonmi said. “She said that they would tell the regime everything. I believed most of my life that Kim Jong-un could read my mind.”

The people of North Korea were often left without electricity. The country had a single, government-controlled television station and most homes did not have running water. Outside films, music and electronics were outlawed and possessing them was a crime punishable by hard labor or death. Yeonmi herself witnessed the execution of a family friend after the woman had viewed a James Bond film.

“North Koreans are taught that the most honorable thing to do is to die for the regime,” Yeonmi said, solemnly.

Eunmi fled North Korea shortly before Yeonmi Park and her mother. The two were guided by smugglers who took advantage of the pair once they had crossed into China. They were raped and enslaved but freed years later. They fled from China to South Korea, where they discovered the freedom that they had only seen in illegal films.

“My father died never knowing that this sort of democracy existed in the world,” Yeonmi said on The Reason. “We did not know such freedoms could exist. We have found heaven; this is paradise.”