North Korean refugee Park Yeon-mi was born in 1993, is 21 years old, and a third year college student. In 2009 she, along with her family, passed through many places to go from North Korea to South Korea.
In the five years since, she has lived in South Korea‘s capital of Seoul and is currently studying law at Dongguk University. However, 15 years ago, she lived with her parents and younger sister in Hyesan, the capital of Ryanggang province in North Korea’s north.
Park Yeon-mi is now a minor celebrity, often taking television interviews wearing a smile, as well as using Facebook, Twitter, Skype, WeChat and other tools to interact with various countries’ netizens on social media.
Next month, Park Yeon-mi will be going to the annual World Youth Leadership Summit in Dublin, the capital of Ireland.
Here, she’ll meet former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Irish rock and roll singer Bob Geldof, world circumnavigator Ellen MacArthur, and other famous individuals.
Park Yeon-mi stays in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, where she is about 50 kilometers away from the North Korean border, surrounded by high-rise buildings, luxury cars everywhere, and ten-lane highways.
When she gets caught up in remembering the past, she always feels as if she has gone to another planet. “I am currently in university, studying law. I feel like I am a different person now.
"When I was in North Korea, no one would ask me, ‘what do you think’, ‘what do you want to do in the future’, ‘what is your dream’. Now, I have free will.”
Park Yeon-mi was born 1993 October 4th in Hyesan in the north of North Korea near the North Korean and Chinese border. In the second year after her birth, 82-year-old North Korean founding leader Kim Il-Sung died from illness.
Park has a little sister. Her father was a government civil servant in Hyesan city. During the worst years of the 1990s, her father relied on secretly selling precious metals to scratch out a living up until 2002, when her father was sentenced to prison for “illegal conduct”.
Three years later in 2005, Park Yeon-mi’s father was “fortunately” able to get out of prison because of intestinal cancer. Park Yeon-mi remembers when she saw her father and how he no longer looked as he once did.
The little girl wearing the white top in the photo was Park Yeon-mi when she was 12 years old at the time. Another two years later in 2007, Park Yeon-mi’s little sister secretly left North Korea, and her family had no choice but to follow in search of her.
Park Yeon-mi remember her and her father crossing three mountains, a river, passing through many places for two years before arriving in Mongolia in 2009, and afterward South Korea. Throughout it all, they found no sign of her younger sister.
In 2008, Park Yeon-mi’s father died from illness, 45 years old at the time. 16-year-old Park Yeon-mi and her mother started a new life in South Korea. At first, they worked as a salesperson and service staff, their income allowing Park Yeon-mi to return to school.
At present, Park Yeon-mi is already a third-year student at Korea’s Dongguk University. In April this year, Park Yeon-mi was reunited with her long-lost younger sister.
Park Yeon-mi says that in the three years since 2011 when North Korean leader Kin Jong-il passed away, she and her mother have found it hard to believe it to be true, having thought of Kim Jong-il as a leader like a god.
Park Yeon-mi hopes to continue her studies in the United States after graduation, to study her favored field of international relations. She hopes to work in the United Nations’ humanitarian organs in the future, and contribute what she can.
Park Yeon-mi told the reporter that she and her family have a very good life now, “I hope I can return to North Korea one day, to rebury my father in our homeland, even if it has to be my children who will do this for me.”
However, she feels it it is very difficult to imagine when this day will come.