by Teny Sahakian
As American educational institutions continue to be called into question, a North Korean defector fears the United States’ future “is as bleak as North Korea” after she attended one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
Yeonmi Park has experienced plenty of struggle and hardship, but she does not call herself a victim.
One of several hundred North Korean defectors settled in the United States, Park, 27, transferred to Columbia University from a South Korean university in 2016 and was deeply disturbed by what she found.
“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 said in an interview with Fox News. “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.”
Those similarities include anti-Western sentiment, collective guilt and suffocating political correctness.
Yeonmi saw red flags immediately upon arriving at the school.
During orientation, she was scolded by a university staff member for admitting she enjoyed classic literature such as Jane Austen.
“I said ‘I love those books.’ I thought it was a good thing,” recalled Park.
“Then she said, ‘Did you know those writers had a colonial mindset? They were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.’”
It only got worse from there as Yeonmi realized that every one of her classes at the Ivy League school was infected with what she saw as anti-American propaganda, reminiscent to the sort she had grown up with.
“’American Bastard’ was one word for North Koreans” Park was taught growing up.
“The math problems would say ‘there are four American bastards, you kill two of them, how many American bastards are left to kill?'”
She was also shocked and confused by issues surrounding gender and language, with every class asking students to announce their preferred pronouns.
“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?”
“It was chaos,” said Yeonmi. “It felt like the regression in civilization.”
“Even North Korea is not this nuts,” she admitted. “North Korea was pretty crazy, but not this crazy.”
After getting into a number of arguments with professors and students, eventually Yeonmi “learned how to just shut up” in order to maintain a good GPA and graduate.
In North Korea, Yeonmi Park did not know of concepts like love or liberty.
“Because I have seen oppression, I know what it looks like,” said Yeonmi, who by the age of 13 had witnessed people drop dead of starvation right before her eyes.
“These kids keep saying how they’re oppressed, how much injustice they’ve experienced. They don’t know how hard it is to be free,” she admonished.
“I literally crossed through the middle of the Gobi Desert to be free. But what I did was nothing, so many people fought harder than me and didn’t make it.”
Park and her mother first fled the oppressive North Korean regime in 2007, when Yeonmi was 13 years old.
After crossing into China over the frozen Yalu River, they fell into the hands of human traffickers who sold them into slavery: Yeonmi for less than $300 and her mother for roughly $100.
With the help of Christian missionaries, the pair managed to flee to Mongolia, walking across the Gobi Desert to eventually find refuge in South Korea.
In 2015 she published her memoir “In Order to Live,” where she described what it took to survive in one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships and the harrowing journey to freedom.
“The people here are just dying to give their rights and power to the government. That is what scares me the most,” the human right activist said.
She accused American higher education institutions of stripping people’s ability to think critically.
“In North Korea I literally believed that my Dear Leader [Kim Jong-un] was starving,” she recalled. “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 continued. “People see things but they’ve just completely lost the ability to think critically.”