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A powerful story from a life inside North Korea and the escape from there


Hyeonseo Lee

travels from South Korea

North- and South Korea expert & defector who escaped from North Korea, best-known for her book: The Girl With Seven Names

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About Hyeonseo

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Keynote speaker Hyeonseo Lee is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea. She has written her memoir, The Girl With Seven Names, published in July 2015 in more than 20 countries. Over 5 million people have viewed her TED Talk about her life in North Korea, her escape to China and struggle to bring her family to freedom.

Hyeonseo Lee has given testimony about North Korean human rights in front of a special panel of the UN Security Council, and has discussed the issues with important leaders such as UN Ambassador Samantha Powers.

She recently completed her undergraduate studies in English and Chinese at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and has been a Young Leader at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Hyeonseo Lee spends much of her time speaking about North Korean human rights and North Korean refugee issues, including speeches at the Stanford University Global Speaker Series, Princeton University, New York University Law School, and at various venues throughout Europe. She has personally met public officials like UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the South Korean Minister of Unification, Yu Woo-ik, to discuss these issues.

Hyeonseo Lee has written articles for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal Korea Real-Time, the London School of Economics Big Ideas blog, and worked as a student journalist for the South Korean Ministry of Unification. She has also been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, CBS News and numerous other television, newspaper and radio outlets throughout the world.

She is currently writing another book with other female North Koreans living in South Korea, and is planning to start an organization to help promising North Korean refugees interact with the international community.


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    Speaker Hyeonseo Lee Keynote Topics

    My escape from North Korea

    As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee thought her country was “the best on the planet.” It wasn’t until the famine of the 90s that she began to wonder. She escaped the country at 14 to begin a life in hiding as a refugee in China.

    This incredible personal tale of survival and hope. From her life inside North Korea, her escape and her experiences as a refugee. Her story a powerful reminder of those who face constant danger, even when the border is far behind.

Hyeonseo Lee - video

Why I escaped from my brainwashed country by Hyeonseo Lee at TEDxKyoto

Watch speaker Hyeonseo Lee in action

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Interview with Hyeonseo Lee

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 life-story 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.

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Keynote topics with Hyeonseo Lee