North Korean Defector Shares Escape Story


Korean Culture Club and YEE team up to host an event showcaasing the story of a North Korean defector. (Photo by: Sabrina Wei (IV))

On March 26, a South Korean student shared her story of defecting from North Korea at an event hosted by the Boston Latin School Korean Culture Club (KCC) and Youth for Education Equality Club (YEE) in partnership with the Language Virtual and People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE) organizations.

The Friday Flex Zoom event began with a brief introduction of Hana, the defector. She then shared her experience of escaping from North Korea before responding to participants’ questions in the chat. Attendees were repeatedly reminded not to take screenshots or screen recordings of the event, as privacy was vital to Hana’s safety.

Vice President of KCC Christina Wong (III) explains that the purpose of the event was for “more people to be educated on the matter, and [to discourage] bias towards North Korean defectors.” She elaborates, “There are definitely people who think that North Korean defectors are not real defectors and that they’re paid by the South Korean government. We wanted people to hear from a North Korean defector to know that these things are happening and that they’re real.”

Hana spoke about her experiences growing up in North Korea, as well as the prevalence of child labor throughout factories in the country. She described the harrowing journey of secretly crossing the military-guarded Chinese-North Korean border. Recounting her interactions with a Chinese-Korean taxi driver who helped her after crossing the border, Hana explained the discrimination that North Koreans often face in South Korea, as a result of lingual and cultural differences. Furthermore, due to the nature of her escape, Hana is unable to visit her family in North Korea. She is currently studying at a South Korean university to become a nurse.

After listening to Hana’s life experiences, Mark Snekvik (V) reflects, “It was a really insightful window into the reality of North Korea and what’s true about conditions there. I feel like we hear so much about crazy conditions and how people are executed right and left, but it always seemed like a far-off and not real place. This event grounded North Korea as a very real place.”

PSCORE, a non-governmental organization that helps defectors adapt to life in South Korea, along with Language Virtual, an online program that teaches English, reached out to KCC and YEE about hosting a North Korean defector at BLS. The school clubs then used their Instagram platforms and reached out to BLS history teachers to promote the event.

YEE President Sabrina Wei (IV) states, “The KCC and YEE both share this aspect of educating others on diverse experiences and cultures which aligned with PSCORE and Language Virtual’s needs in this event to share the story of a North Korean defector.”

Wong says there were unique challenges to planning the event, since the 13-hour time difference between South Korea and Massachusetts meant that they had to schedule meetings at night.

In addition to organizing the speaker session, the KCC aims to educate BLS students through sharing and celebrating Korean culture. At club meetings, KCC hosts discussions of Korean politics, traditions, and customs, including art and pop-culture.

“Most people know more about South Korea than North Korea because of K-pop and South Korean fashion trends, but they don’t know more about the more serious stuff like North Korea’s human rights violations. I would definitely encourage those who did and didn’t attend this event to come to future club meetings and learn about Korean politics,” concludes Wong.