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Q&A with North Korean escapee KK*
Jeff Kim: Why is getting an education important to you?
KK: I want to know more about how things work because I was in North Korea and didn't know about the outside world. So I want to learn more about the outside world.
JK: You are currently studying business. What are your plans after graduating?
KK: After graduating from community college I'm planning to transfer to a university somewhere in California.
JK: Do you want to continue studying business? What kind of business are you interested in?
KK: Yes. I'm interested in accounting. It's hard, but I enjoy it.
JK: What does freedom mean to you, and why is freedom important?
KK: I can think my own thoughts, have my opinions about the world, and make plans for my future. That's why America is really good.
JK: What are some activities you do now that you couldn’t imagine yourself doing in North Korea?
KK: School. I wanted to go to school and make friends in North Korea. I couldn't go because I didn’t have money to pay the tuition fees. In America, I have a more options.
JK: What do you think about [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-un, how you saw Kim at first versus how you see him now?
KK: When he came into power he was focused more on the military. Now he’s more focused on nuclear weapons, like ‘if we don't have the nuclear power then North Korea is nothing.’ So he’s seeking more power and being stricter toward the people. People are too afraid to escape now.
JK: So do you think that's the reason why not as many North Koreans are able to escape because of Kim Jong-un?
KK: People are more afraid of him than Kim Jong-Il [Kim Jong-un’s father, who was in power from 1994 to 2011]. People think he is really different.
JK: Talking about Kim Jong-un we also must talk about human rights issues. Do you hear about human rights violations that are happening in North Korea?
KK: Yes, human rights in North Korea are really bad. They don't care about the people. And if one person in the family does something wrong, then every family member is in trouble. They don't have any human rights.
JK: Do you have any good memories about North Korea?
KK: Well, my family is in North Korea. We had a big New Year’s dinner together with my family.
*Many North Korean escapees continue to live in fear, even after becoming permanent residents or citizens of the United States. Leaving North Korea without permission is a crime, and violators and their immediate relatives may face imprisonment or punishment. Thus, some scholarship recipients request that the Bush Institute withhold their names.
Q&A with North Korean escapee Peter Oh
Peter Oh is a 2019 North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient who is pursuing his master’s degree in international policy and practice at George Washington University. He and his younger brother escaped North Korea in 2000 in search for food. He lived in China for three years before seeking asylum in South Korea with the help of Christian missionaries. He became a reporter for Radio Free Asia in Seoul and in 2010 was transferred to the Washington, D.C. office to report on North Korean issues.
Q&A with North Korean escapee Debby Kim
Debby Kim, a two-time North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient, is a sophomore biochemistry major at Wheaton College in Illinois and an aspiring doctor. She escaped North Korea when she was 13 years old.
Q&A with North Korean escapee LK*
LK, a three-time North Korea Freedom Scholarship recipient, is an electrical and computer engineering student at a university in Illinois. A former member of the North Korean Army, LK remains anonymous to protect family members still living in North Korea.