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Clemson YAF hosts North Korean defector Yeonmi Park

Mya McKenzie
Yeonmi Park, who defected from North Korea in 2007, spoke to Clemson students about her experiences growing up.

North Korean defector, author and conservative activist Yeonmi Park shared her lecture, “A North Korean Defector’s Fight for Freedom,” at the Strom Thurmond Institute on Thursday.

Speaking to a group of over 100 students, Park vocalized her experiences growing up in, as she put it, the “concentration camp that is … the state of North Korea.”

“Growing up, the first thing I learned from my mother was not to whisper; birds and mice can hear. If I spoke one wrong word, they would not just take my life but kill eight generations of my family. What you say and think is controlled by the Kim dictatorship,” Park said during her speech.

“I regularly saw dead bodies on the street, people starving and having to eat plants and bugs to survive,” said Park when detailing her childhood in her memoir, “In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.”

“Daily life was a struggle to find food, as I can see in my body. Most North Koreans’ bodies are marred by the malnutrition they experience when you’re a little kid,” Park said.

Exhausting their lack of food and resources, Park spoke of her family’s desperation for a better life where survival was possible.
“By the time I was 13 in 2007, it came to a point we could not find food. We had to do something, but what could we do?” Park said.

Park then described battling sickness and being violently mistreated by “doctors in the socialist healthcare system” who unnecessarily removed her appendix to cover up a misdiagnosis.

After recovering from maltreatment, Park followed a note left by her older sister, who previously escaped North Korea, which led her to a woman who was willing to help Park cross the river dividing North Korea from China after “bribing a border guard.”

Park continued to voice her story, recounting her escape from North Korea to China only to become a victim of rape and sold off into sex slavery as a child alongside her mother in 2007.

“After they raped my mom, they took me to a safe house in China and checked my teeth and body and began negotiating my price,” Park recalled.

Park then shared her stories as a sex slave after being separated from her mother and her mission to reunite with her parents. After being released from her captivity in China, she came across a Christian missionary who assisted in Park’s escape. In 2009, she crossed the Gobi Desert to eventually seek freedom in South Korea.

Park later gained citizenship in the United States and attended Columbia University in New York City in 2016.

“When I got to Columbia University and came to classrooms, I was confused. Did I somehow transfer back to North Korea? Because the things professors and students were saying were sometimes worse than in North Korea. The anti-America and anti-freedom sentiment was so strong,” Park said during her speech.

Park spoke of the importance of being knowledgeable and responsible citizens who fight for “the freedom that many take for granted.”

“It matters what political system you endorse and what kind of evil you fight against,” Park explained.

In addition to criticizing U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders for their political stances, Park pledged her love for the United States.

“I would be executed for sharing my story, no doubt; however, in America right now, having come from North Korea, I am able to have a voice and share my life story. That tolerance and that freedom is why I fell in love with America, and I’m willing to die for this country,” Park told the audience.

Students later filled the walkway, asking questions and thanking her for sharing her story at Clemson.

The atmosphere was “electric, inspiring and important,” according to attendees of the Young Americans for Freedom event.

“I loved hearing her story and her love for America. After surviving everything, Yeonmi truly appreciates what this country offers and what it means to be American. She’s truly an inspiration,” Taylor Adams, the president of the Clemson YAF chapter, said.

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Josiah Sullivan
Josiah Sullivan, Senior Reporter
Mya McKenzie, Senior Photographer
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