Q: You recently helped your mother and younger brother escape North Korea. How is their experience of life in South Korea different from yours?
A: At least I experienced some form of capitalism in China for the 10 years I lived there. My family lived under communism their entire lives. When they arrived in South Korea, they didn’t even know how to use the bank system and ATM, or the subway, nothing. It was completely alien. In communism, we never had any freedom, of movement, of speech, of press. We didn’t even make our own decisions for our lives. We were human robots. After we come to South Korea, we have to make own decision about every single thing. For those not used to this society, they are completely lost.
Q: You lived 17 years in North Korea, then a decade in China and now you are in South Korea. What is home to you?
A: If you asked me that question last year, I would consider the world as my home, as vague as that sounds. But more and more, I am accepting South Korea as my home. I had a horrible experience last year in China. I had gone to China to give a public speech at a book fair. As a North Korean defector, the Chinese government will still not accept me as person who has received a South Korean passport. … I had to escape China because of the media attention. The moment I arrived in South Korea, I realized this is my home, where I don’t have to worry about being repatriated to North Korea, I don’t have to worry about the police, or hide every day. I was completely free, the country was embracing me, accepting me.