TED Talk: Escape from North Korea

Because North Korea severely lacks Internet infrastructure, the concept of social media is extremely foreign and unheard of for the North Korean people. There are also no citizen journalists within the country, since the North Korean regime has a tight grip on the media and has strict limitations on the publication of information. Plus, many would not publish their sentiments of dissent or desires of escape on the Web, if it existed. Therefore, this post will address a North Korean defector who has presented her escape story through a TED talk. In a way, these TED talks serve as these defectors’ platform to tell their story like a citizen journalist, but reoriented within the global market with an audience base that excludes the North Korean people themselves.

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Hyeonseo Lee defected from North Korea at the age of 14, after realizing that her “normal” world wasn’t so normal after all. She began to realize that North Korea was not actually the “best on the planet,” as she witnessed lifeless individuals on the ground and others intensely suffering from the famine in the 1980s. Hyeonseo escaped to China to live with distant relatives and it would take another 14 years for her to be reunited with her family again. She expresses in the TED talk that she lived in constant fear and anxiety in China, because China recognizes North Korean defectors as illegal migrants.

While living in China, Hyeonseo was notified that the North Korean government knew she was sending money to her family back in North Korea. Shocked and terrified that her family would be tortured and punished, Hyeonseo quickly devised a plan to get her family far from the confines of the regime. After endless travel, interrogations, and several arrests, they finally all made it safely to South Korea. Hyeonseo firmly believes that more North Korean defectors will succeed and surface all over the world, including on the TED stage. Her TED talk has received a tremendous amount of views!

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Other North Korean defectors have given talks through TED too, and I think it’s great that an outlet like this exists for these escapees to tell their stories, which would not have been possible at all in North Korea. Especially with today’s digital technologies, anyone from all over the world can access their stories. With such public awareness, I hope to see more international communities contributing resources to these defectors as they bridge the gap between their pre and post-North Korean lives, and also providing the necessary structural and economic aid to prospective escapees.


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