North Korean defector says indoctrination at Columbia Univ. crazier than Kim regime

Soldiers walk in front of the Monument to the Foundation of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017.
Soldiers walk in front of the Monument to the Foundation of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea April 16, 2017. | REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

A North Korean defector who Christian missionaries helped escape to freedom said attending Columbia University, an Ivy League institution, was crazier, as far as its forced ideology and conformity, than the brutal Kim regime. 

Yeonmi Park recounted how she came to the United States to attend Columbia after transferring from a South Korean university in 2016 and was troubled to find a culture of indoctrination, which she detailed in recent interviews about her frustration while pursuing a humanities degree at the prestigious university.

"I expected that I was paying this fortune, all this time and energy, to learn how to think. But they are forcing you to think the way they want you to think," Park, the author of the bestseller In Order to Live, said in an interview with Fox News

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"I realized, wow, this is insane. I thought America was different, but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying."

Park explained that a university staff member antagonized her when she said she enjoyed classic literature and authors like Jane Austen. She recounted the person telling her that such writers had a colonial mindset and were bigots and racists, and their messages were subconsciously brainwashing her.

Similarly, gender issues, specifically as they pertained to language, also took the then-North Korean student by surprise. Each course at the Ivy League school began with students declaring the pronouns by which they prefer to be addressed.

"English is my third language. I learned it as an adult. I sometimes still say 'he' or 'she' by mistake, and now they are going to ask me to call them 'they'? How the heck do I incorporate that into my sentences?" she asked. 

"It was chaos," she added. "It felt like the regression in civilization."

"Even North Korea is not this nuts. ... North Korea was pretty crazy, but not this crazy," Park said, adding that she eventually learned not to say anything after several arguments with professors and students in order to maintain a good GPA and graduate. 

The North Korean woman made a grueling journey through Asia to escape what is arguably the most repressive nation in the world. By the time she was 13 years old, she had watched people fall dead due to starvation. At age 13, in 2007, she crossed into China with her mother over the frozen Yalu River where human traffickers captured them and sold them into slavery. She was sold for less than $300, and her mother was sold for $100. 

They managed to flee to Mongolia with the assistance of Christian missionaries, traversing across the Gobi desert. Park later found refuge in South Korea. Her 2015 memoir recounts how she survived North Korean oppression and what it took to escape to freedom, which she also shared in a TedTalk in 2019.  

In the United States, people “are just dying to give their rights and power to the government. That is what scares me the most," Park, who now advocates for the human rights of North Koreans, told Fox News.

"In North Korea, I literally believed that my Dear Leader [Kim Jong un] was starving," she said. 

"He's the fattest guy, how can anyone believe that? And then somebody showed me a photo and said, 'Look at him, he's the fattest guy. Other people are all thin.' And I was like, 'Oh my God, why did I not notice that he was fat?' Because I never learned how to think critically."

"That is what is happening in America," she stressed. "People see things, but they've just completely lost the ability to think critically."

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