North Korean defector speaks about her experiences to UVU students, faculty

The Fulton Library auditorium was filled at capacity with students, faculty and staff eager to see world-renowned author, Lee Hyeon-seo who was chosen by the Freshman Experience faculty to speak about her experiences depicted in her book The Girl with Seven Names. Selected as the 2018-2019 school year reading requirement for all incoming freshman, it was also the last book chosen by President Holland before his departure.

The selection was also done partially by a committee of faculty members. Martha Wilson, a member of the Freshman Experience Department, stated she has never had an easier time getting an author to come to UVU. Wilson added that she contacted Hyeon-seo only a few months prior in April, to schedule the event.

Wilson went on to express that she had never seen so many people attend such an event. According to her, though the auditorium only has 126 seats, there were over 200 people in attendance.

The book depicts Hyeon-seo’s experiences after defecting from North Korea, ranging with stories from her time as a sex worker to becoming a political refugee. With a full auditorium, she spoke to students and people from surrounding Utah communities about her time spent escaping Chinese custody, assimilating with western culture and gaining newfound freedom as a new citizen of South Korea.

“My freedom was not free,” Hyeon-Seo said. “It cost me pain.”

Austin Meline, a political science major who attended the event said, “I need to open myself up to be more sympathetic to the experiences of those who defect, and bring them down to a more human level.”  

Hyeon-Seo told stories about her childhood of hardship and fear, as well as other adversities such as the Korean government listening in on her family phone calls. She spoke on how her views of allegiance changed after being made aware of alternative political views and histories upon escaping to China. Hyeon-seo expressed that she was “grateful to be at such a nice school.” After she spoke, students were given the opportunity to ask her questions.

Claudia Hales, who has a daughter attending UVU, said that she had canceled her daughter’s various appointments for her to be able to attend the event. “I am very grateful to have this opportunity,” Hales said.  

Aubrey Pontious, a freshman, spoke on her takeaway from the event. “I had no idea that human trafficking was such a large problem,” Pontious said. “The event was fantastic. I learned a lot.”

After the event, Hyeon-seo signed books and continued to answer attendees’ queries.

Photos taken by Sarah Schrimsher

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