Yeonmi Park: From Fright to Freedom

Since the time she was a small child in North Korea, Yeonmi Park was told by her mother not to make waves or do anything that would draw attention to herself. After all, life in their family’s country was extremely difficult and speaking one’s mind about the state of affairs would only make life even more harsh. They had already seen what could happen to those who spoke out against the government; a family friend had even been publicly executed. Eventually, however, circumstances would force Yeonmi Park and her family to flee their native country.

The trip across the border was fraught with danger. Although the Parks lived in a town that was directly across the river from China, North Koreans are not permitted to leave their country without the express permission of their government. However, Yeonmi Park and her mother had become much less concerned with what the government would think about them. Ever since her father had been arrested, tried and put in a labor camp for selling metal to the Chinese, life had become desperate for the Park women. Forced to subsist off of whatever food they could find in their backyard, the women were eating grasshoppers and frozen potatoes in a bid to survive. They were extremely malnourished and Yeonmi Park speaks very passionately about this time in her life, saying that she left North Korea for a bowl of rice.

Once the women arrived in China after their treacherous journey, however, life did not become better. Yeonmi Park’s mother was raped by their unscrupulous guide, and they found themselves being sold into human trafficking. It would take years before the family could be reunited, but unfortunately Yeonmi’s father was dying of colon cancer. After he passed away, Yeonmi and her mother made yet another treacherous trip—this time across the Gobi Desert.

After surviving the freezing desert on, they were told by Mongolian guards that they could not enter the country. The women, however, would not take no for an answer. They informed the guards that they would commit suicide if they were not permitted to pass. Eventually, they were allowed into the country and then deported to South Korea, where they began new lives.

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