While growing up in North Korea, it was normal for Yeonmi to see dead bodies as she walked to school and to be so hungry she ate insects and wild plants. Starving, she escaped from North Korea to China in 2007.
After being trafficked in China and burying her father, who had been tortured in a North Korean prison camp, Yeonmi made the dangerous journey to South Korea in 2009. During a freezing night in the Gobi Desert, she and her mother dodged patrols and crawled through barbed wire to cross the Mongolian border.
After adjusting to life in the South, Yeonmi learned English by watching the show Friends, and she began delivering speeches to the international public. In 2014, the video of her deeply personal speech at One Young World went viral, with more than 80 million views to-date. Yeonmi released her
searing memoir In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom in 2015.
More recently, in 2017, Yeonmi joined the Tory Burch Foundation’s Embrace Ambition campaign, a global effort to dispel the double standard of ambition as a positive trait in men and a negative trait in women. In 2018, she and her husband welcomed their son, James Jinsik, and she assumed her role as President of the nonprofit Freedom for North Korea.