Q&A with North Korean escapee KK*

KK is a two-time recipient of the Bush Institute’s North Korea Freedom Scholarship, which helps escapees build productive new lives in freedom. She is currently studying business at a community college in California and also works at a restaurant.

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.