The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

North Korean defector Yeonmi Park speaks at Iowa Memorial Union

The UI Young Americans for Freedom hosted Park at the IMU on Tuesday.
Ava Neumaier
Conservative activist Yeonmi Park speaks at the Iowa Memorial Union’s Main Lounge in an event sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom on Tuesday, Nov 14, 2023. Yeonmi Park described defecting from North Korea and her experiences with communism.

A crowd of around 150 University of Iowa students gathered at the IMU on Tuesday to hear North Korean defector and author Yeonmi Park

Park, invited by the UI conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom at Iowa, has spoken at dozens of universities across the nation, as a speaker for the national Young Americans for Freedom organization. She has also become widely known for her story of escaping North Korea and her criticism of liberals who, she said, call for communist or socialist policies. 

Park is also a YouTube creator with over 1.13 million subscribers and the author of “While Time Remains: A North Korean Defector’s Search for Freedom in America.” 

However, Park has been criticized by some that her life story of escaping from North Korea doesn’t add up, according to The Washington Post. According to scholars interviewed in the report, there is also evidence suggesting Park’s claims regarding her time in North Korea do not resemble collective escapee experiences. 

She said she grew up in extreme poverty in North Korea, eating very little, and that the only way she could play was by chasing cockroaches. Park said citizens in North Korea were not allowed to watch Hollywood or South Korean movies.

“In North Korea, they don’t even have the concept of human rights,” Park said. “When I was 13 years old, I grew up eating the fanciest meal I could find in North Korea — grasshoppers.” 

She said in 2007 at 13 years old, she and her mother fled North Korea to China to follow her sister and traffickers held them captive.

Jasmyn Jordan, the Chairwoman of the UI Young Americans for Freedom, said the chapter chose to bring Park in because they wanted to focus on an economic issue as, she said, the group has been focusing a lot on social issues. 

Jordan also found that bringing Park in was beneficial because it added to the discussion about international issues. 

“With YAF, a lot of it is pro-America, but I think showing the countries we do ally with, or also how people have left other countries and found their value, beliefs, and principles aligning with America, I think that’s something that’s really interesting to learn about,” Jordan said. 

Park said when she was 15 years old, missionaries led her to decide to seek freedom by crossing the Gobi Desert from China to Mongolia. Park said she traveled across the desert at negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit and had to cross over 10 wire fences. 

She said communism is a common belief of liberal Americans which she experienced while attending Columbia University. She said when she arrived in America and started attending the university in 2016, she experienced an America she did not expect. 

“My classmates and my professors, in their Lululemon yoga pants, drinking this green juice detox to burn calories … And their MacBook and iPhone, and sitting in the classroom and talking about how amazing it would be that America becomes a socialist,” Park said. “They say the only solution to current problems that we have as a nation is going to be a communist revolution.” 

Park criticized her former classmates who, she said, believed in tearing down the Constitution and destroying America and capitalism due to the inequalities it created. 

“I was thinking, ‘So should we live in a country where everybody’s equal, but starving to death?’” Park said. “I would rather live in a country where people like Elon Musk build rockets and electric cars and be a billionaire. I’m so grateful for it.”

During the Q&A portion of Park’s speech, one speech-goer questioned Park’s story of escape from North Korea and criticized her for not being able to keep a consistent story. 

Park said she had been on an entertainment show in South Korea, in which she said she did not share the entire truth of her escaping North Korea and her experiences while in China. 

“It’s not easy for us North Koreans to live in South Korea because there’s heavy discrimination, and I could not share that I was somebody’s sex toy for three years,” she said. 

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About the Contributors
Natalie Miller
Natalie Miller, Politics Reporter
Natalie Miller is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her position as a Politics Reporter, Natalie was a News Reporter focusing on Higher Education.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.