My name is Heasue and I was born in North Korea.
Until the age of 19, I was taught that North Korea was the greatest nation in the world. If we were to resist their communist goals and ideology, our entire family would be sent to political prison camps or publicly shot to death. They also taught that America was a wicked and cruel imperialist state. On my last day of mandatory military training in high school, we were forced to shoot a real Soviet gun at an American figure target. The sound of gunfire was loud; I shot three bullets myself and cried with the other girls in our class because we were afraid.
As a child, I experienced the worst famine in North Korea's history. Thankfully, I didn’t starve due to my parents’ work, but the government took away my father’s business because it reached beyond the line of wealth an individual was allowed to possess. The incident shocked my mom, who then became ill with heart disease, and became worse with other complications like diabetes and cataracts. She died of cancer when I was 18.
After my mother's death, I felt I had no reason to live in North Korea and felt completely hopeless.
I knew about the outside world to some extent. I had secretly watched foreign films like Titanic and read books like Gone With The Wind. Living in North Korea felt like being a lost frog trapped in a well—there was no freedom and it had already taken away my childhood. I didn’t want it to take away my future as well, so I decided to escape. I said my last goodbye to my hometown and my mother’s grave, thinking that I would return to see my family again in the near future. It has been 11 years since then.
I walked across the frozen Tumen River to China, where I was tricked into being sold to a Chinese man. Locked inside his home, I escaped by jumping out of a second story window. Ten months later, through the help of a broker, I arrived in Vietnam, and was arrested three times. Each time, I was able to miraculously escape from jail through the help of a kind Samaritan, who also guided me to Cambodia. There, I found safety at the South Korean embassy and was able to acquire travel approval to South Korea as a North Korean refugee.
Life in South Korea was not easy. I didn’t know how to use a bus card. I didn’t know what a bank was. And I didn’t know how to order coffee. Studying at school was also very difficult because the education system was completely different. But I survived through it all because I was hungry for knowledge. I graduated in South Korea with a Bachelor's Degree within six years.
Right after graduation, I entered an internship program in Washington, D.C. where I worked with The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). Everything I learned about the U.S. in North Korea was a 180-degree difference from my actual experience. Having lived in several countries, I felt the least discrimination as a defector in America and had the most freedom to learn and think. Although I had to go back to South Korea after the end of my internship, I wanted to return to the U.S. to study there.
For the past year, I’ve been diligently studying English to prepare for graduate school and was recently accepted to a master’s program at an American university. I chose business administration to gain tangible skills and work-life experience for a stable career. With that, my goal is to help others, especially children in poverty who have no access to education. As I’ve experienced, anyone with proper education has the power to change their future. Since it’s a joint accelerated English/business program, the tuition costs $70,000 for two years.
Without access to student loans, bank loans, or scholarships due to my lack of U.S. citizenship, I’m seeking the help of those around me to pursue the next chapter of my studies. With your financial assistance, I will apply the same diligence and determination that helped get me to this point to my career.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
- InHwan Oh