Like many people, North Korea holds a mysterious appeal to me because of its reclusiveness. My seed of interest towards the plight of North Koreans was sown 8 years ago after reading a book entitled Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. It was a book that shared the stories of North Korean defectors. The identities of all the defectors were anonymous and after reading the book, I felt a deep sense of curiosity to put their faces to the stories, but to no avail.
Who would have thought that 8 years down the road, there would be an explosion in the number of North Korean defectors coming forward to share their stories and experiences on YouTube? These people risk their lives to first escape their homeland, then to raise awareness of the plight of the people still suffering under the hook wind and oppression of the leader and elite class. While we may often think of famous YouTuber making a decent or even lucrative living creating content on YouTube, North Korean defectors are unlikely to generate any income from the web traffic as they are covering political topics which do not qualify for the advertisement revenue program.
Therefore, why are they still doing it despite they may face personal repercussions of being abducted back into North Korea or implicating their relatives whom they left behind to be sent to concentration camps?
I would think that many were inspired by the first few brave defectors that were willing to reveal their faces and share with the World about their George-Orwell-like dystopian experiences in their homeland, except that it was a reality for them back then.
After watching countless videos that have taken away at least twenty to thirty hours of my time, I am left feeling inspired every time I see a North Korean defector speaking in English despite only learning the language in the last few years.
I think what the rest of the World has to learn from these defectors is how their adversities make them resilient and successful in adapting to the new world.
Here are some of the YouTubers that I had come across and admired. I have also included a brief profile of what I had learned about them from their videos to pique your interest.
Elegant Cherie Yang
In this video, she shared the story of her father’s persecution by the government when she was 10-year-old which seeded the idea and rallied the support from her family to escape her homeland for freedom. This was one of the first few videos about North Korean defectors that I had watched and it had left a great impression on my mind.
In this video, Jack shared about how the cost of paying a broker to help him escape from North Korea in 2009 had inflated by 3 to 5 times over the next 3 years when he wanted to help his wife escape. It was a very touching video to me and I deeply admired his loyalty and devotion to his wife. His videos and narrations are quite entertaining too! A must-watch!
Honest Eunhee Park
Eunhee was really honest in the video and she was not afraid to make herself vulnerable when she shared that her parents were divorced. She emitted a very upbeat aura throughout the whole video and I believe she must be a very positive person.
Ken is Eunhee’s friend. In this video, he shared with us his dreams for the future if North Korea were to open up one day. He wants to set up a business, hire his friends and donate his wealth. I was really impressed by his drive to learn and improve as evident by his ability to articulate clearly in English within the span of 11 years (i.e. He escaped NK in 2010) and graduating from the University of Seoul in 2019.
Kind Yeonmi Park
Yeonmi Park’s channel would likely come up in the top few search results on YouTube when one googles about North Korea. Her videos have amassed millions of views but she was not able to monetize any of this attention. Nevertheless, she continues to devote her time to raising awareness of the plight of North Koreans and also helps to promote and publicise New North Korean YouTubers that are coming forward to share their stories too.
I believe that YouTube has the potential to rally together North Korean defectors to work together to evoke change in the country. It’s a long shot but it’s worth believing in and spreading it.