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Interview with Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo Lee is a North Korean defector living in South Korea. In her interview with A-Speakers she tells about her struggle to bring her family to freedom. Read on below.

Your new books is called “The Girl with Seven Names.” What is it about?

Living on the North Korea-China border, there had been two different worlds opened to my eyes – the monochrome of my repressive homeland, and the bright, vibrant colors of another world just across the river. My act of escape became one of the most important steps in a process of maturation. But once I crossed the border, I learned that none of the warm glow of alluring lights was meant for me, because I was a North Korean defector. I experienced hunger, coldness, fear, terror, threats and pursuit.

All this I had to endure, simply for being a North Korean defector. Every time I navigated treacherous terrain and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, I had to change my name to protect my  new identity, thus becoming “The Girl with Seven Names”. But one thing that I held onto was my humanity, ever stronger as I continuously sublimated my hardships into hope.

My story is about the perseverance and the triumph of the human spirit – how a girl who could not even keep her own name but somehow overcame countless hardships and maintained the identity of what it is to be human.


Why did you decide to make your lifestory public?

I decided to take a bold step in my life and speak out publicly against the North Korean regime because the North Korean people have suffered for too long, and the outside world needs to know the truth and what they can do to help. I use my English and Chinese language skills to communicate with people about ending North Korea’s human rights abuses and the mistreatment of North Korean refugees in China. It has not always been easy, as I have been subjected to threats and intimidation, but I will not back down.


How do you try to represent North Korean refugees?

My most important role thus far has been as a public speaker raising awareness about North Korea’s human rights abuses, and communicating directly with people about the issues. I have given numerous interviews and speeches in English to inform the international community about the North Korean regime’s brutal human rights abuses and suppression of its people. As I recently completed my undergraduate studies, I now aim to start an organization to help North Korean refugees in South Korea to succeed and connect with concerned members of the international community.


What are your hopes for North Korea and its people?

My ultimate hope is for the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. I believe that is the dream of Koreans on both sides of the DMZ. We never know when it will happen, so in the meantime, my biggest hope is for the North Korean regime to end its human rights abuses and treat its people with the respect they deserve. There is no reason people should be brainwashed and not have the ability to speak freely, travel within or outside of the country, or access the Internet. It is a modern day tragedy that needs to end.

Learn more about Hyeonseo Lee here!

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