After his father died of starvation during the North Korean famine of the 1990s and his mother and sister went to China, Joseph Kim was left living on the streets, having to steal and beg to survive. He was eventually liberated by a charity at the age of 16 and resettled in the US.
Asked in a Reddit AMA what he was “most surprised to learn about the world once [he] left North Korea”, you might have expected Kim to reference the enormity of skyscrapers, the prevalence of fast food or the pace of life.
His answer was much more personal, and incredibly touching. “Coming to America, probably the biggest shocking moment was how everyone was living different lives. … going to public parks with family, refreshments and barbecues, laying on the ground – I think that was something I never really imagined. I never had that in North Korea. We never had those kind of things.”
While Kim is happy to be away from the struggles of life in North Korean and able to appreciate the simple joys of lying on the ground with loved ones, there are things he misses about the country. “I definitely miss some things. I do miss my friends, and also my hometown, my hometown has so many memories,” he said. “It’s a place that I learned how to swim in the river there, there were mountains we climbed for fun, and one thing I do really miss is the pear tree from my backyard.
Since resettling, Kim has spoken about his experiences at the UN and TED Global stage. Earlier this month, he published a memoir about his life titled ‘Under the Same Sky’.