North Korean escapee recalls harrowing journey to get to America, says Columbia University taught her to 'censor herself all over again’

Yeonmi Park, who escaped with her family at the age of 13 from Communist North Korea, spoke with Jordan Peterson in a recent episode of his podcast about her harrowing journey to be free.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Yeonmi Park, who escaped with her family at the age of 13 from Communist North Korea, spoke with Jordan Peterson in a recent episode of his podcast about her harrowing journey to be free.

Author of In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Park was born in the northern part of North Korea in 1993, a time that Peterson and Park call some of the worst times in North Korean history, with a famine stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union that killed countless lives.

Park said that the best modern example she could use for North Korea was the book The Hunger Games, in which the capital was kept properly fed, clothed, and properly equipped to survive, while the surrounding 13 districts were made to live on the edge of survival, "so people do not think about what is the meaning of life. What is freedom? All they have to think about is next meal."

Park recalled seeing "dead bodies on the streets. It was a literally everyday thing" growing up.

Speaking on the North Korean language and why there’s no revolution, Park said that there are no words for love, human rights, or revolution there. The people of North Korea "don’t know they are oppressed," with information control so tight she had no idea what the outside world looked like, and thought that the rest of the world had it far worse than North Korea.

When asked about the contrast between North Korea’s class system to America, and the concept of class guilt being unescapable across generations, Park said that people in American are "being collectively guilted for their history," and that "people still trying to punish people who were not doing it at the time," pointing out that you cannot choose your ancestors, and drawing a parallel to people being attacked for being ancestors of slave owners.

Park’s father was sent to a prison camp in her youth, which she says the camp’s prisoners were "treated like animals." She equated her father’s condition after they were reunited to the George Orwell novel 1984, in which after the main character Winston comes back from torture, he was "empty." Park said that was her father. "They killed his soul permanently," said Park.

Park, when she defected to China in 2007, said soon after crossing the border, her mother was raped, and the pair were sold into slavery.

Peterson elaborated that at the time, there was a shortage of women due to the one-child policy in China  and female fetuses being aborted at a skyrocketing rate. Because of this, Park and her mother were  seen as "high value" items to the 30 million Chinese men that had "no hope" of finding a woman.

Through sex chatrooms, another North Korea defector told Park that the path to freedom was in South Korea, and said that if she became Christian, the missionaries would help them get out. The two traveled to Mongolia, and eventually made it to South Korea in 2009. They were identified as refugees, and went through training to integrate them into South Korean society.

Park eventually moved to the United States, attending school at Columbia University, and said that Columbia University left her "pessimistic" about the western world. She talks about the confusion of pronouns while learning English. She said that her time at school taught her how to "censor herself all over again," adding that Columbia "wasn’t worth that amount of money."

She said she questioned whether she became free when she came to America. "Is there any truly free place in this world right now?"

Speaking on China, Park said that the Chinese Communist Party’s assistance to North Korea was "crimes against humanity," but that despite the world wanting top come together to tell China to stop, "now everybody’s been bought by China."

"If America loses their ground to China and then keep saying and do not stand up for what we believe in in this country, we might lose a chance to be ever free and win with China," said Park. "This is a very serious battle that we are in."

Park works as an activist, speaking publicly about her journey to escape North Korea, and joined Liberty in North Korea, a US nonprofit organization that rescues North Korean refugees from China and resettles them in South Korea.

Peterson has spoken extensively about the dangers of and ideals behind Socialism and Communism throughout his career over numerous interviews and college campus lectures, recently critiquing the Communist Manifesto in a 2021 debate with Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek.


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