Hyeonseo Lee: Hardships of North Korean People


Hyeonseo Lee is a North Korean defector who fled the country in the 1990s during famine and political oppression. In a TED Talk, she discussed her experiences growing up in North Korea, where she was taught that the outside world was evil and that her country was the best on the planet. However, after witnessing a public execution and learning about the famine killing of her fellow citizens, she became disillusioned with the regime and eventually fled to China. She lived constantly fearing being caught and repatriated but ultimately managed to make her way to South Korea and start a new life.

In her TED talk, Lee discussed her difficulties assisting her family’s escape from North Korea. Near the South Korean embassy in Laos, her family was detained and imprisoned for illegal border crossing. Despite her best efforts to free her family from prison, she lacked the funds necessary to cover the essential bribes or fines. The remaining funds she required to free her family from jail were given to her by a kind stranger.


Lee emphasized that getting to freedom is only half the battle for North Korean defectors. Many defectors arrive in new countries with little or no money and need support from the international community for education, language training, and job training. She also mentioned that many defectors still have family members in North Korea and can act as a bridge between the people inside North Korea and the outside world.

North Korea has taught its citizens that their country is superior and the rest of the world is evil due to its isolation. However, Lee’s experiences show that the reality is different, with many North Koreans suffering during the 1990s famine and resorting to eating unusual things to survive, as well as frequent power outages leaving the neighbourhood in complete darkness at night.

Lee’s story serves as a reminder of the oppression of people in North Korea and the struggles they face in trying to leave. It also emphasizes how crucial it is for the international community to support North Korean defectors, who frequently need assistance adjusting to a new nation and culture. Lee’s message is that there is hope for the North Korean people thanks to strangers’ goodwill and the international community’s assistance.

It is important to note that the situation for North Koreans is still dire, with many still facing food insecurity, lack of necessities and restrictions on freedom of speech and movement. Many defectors face challenges adjusting to life outside North Korea and may struggle with language barriers, cultural differences, and discrimination. The international community is responsible for supporting defectors and advocating for human rights in North Korea.

Furthermore, Lee’s story also highlights the importance of education and access to information. Growing up in North Korea, Lee was not exposed to the outside world and only learned about her country’s situation through a letter from a coworker’s sister. Education and access to information can empower individuals and help them make informed decisions about their lives.

Hyeonseo Lee’s story is a potent reminder of North Korean citizens’ daily hardships and the obstacles they must overcome to reach freedom. It emphasizes the value of supporting defectors from the international community and the role that information access play in empowering people. The international community must support North Korea’s defectors and promote human rights there.



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