You may remember Joseph Kim from his TED talk—a talk that was viewed over one million times.
Joseph grew up during the famine in North Korea. He was orphaned after his father died of starvation and his mother disappeared. His sister fled the country to search for food but never returned. Joseph escaped North Korea in 2006 at the age of 15 and is now in college studying international business.
We asked him a few questions so you can get to know him a little better.
Q: What is your favorite movie or book?
A: Momo by Michael Ende, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong (translated by Moss Roberts), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Korean BBQ, North Korean – Potato Stew (감자탕)
Q: If you could meet any past historical figure (for example: Ghandi, Jesus, President Lincoln, Kim Jong-il), who would it be and why?
A: This is hard, but if I have to choose one, I choose Socrates. The first reason is because his ideas have influenced me a lot. One example of his renowned ideas is the idea of self-realization AKA “Know Thyself.” I was never exposed to his idea in NK, but once I learned about it after I came to U.S, it has inspired me. One of the first things I had to do was to identify who I was, and accept the reality in NK. When I was just turning 13, at the age when most people begin to learn to establish their own opinions toward society and oneself, my identity was defined by others; I was told that I was a motherless, homeless, orphan, beggar. Accepting the reality and learning who I was, as well as my strengths and weaknesses, was a key step to survive.
Q: Favorite subjects to study:
A: Political Economics (Favorite economists)
Western and Eastern Philosophies (Favorite philosophers)
Most exciting philosophies I have studied on my own
History (Favorite history eras)
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: My senior year in college, I plan to go to South Korea for study abroad. After college, I plan on joining a company in order to build professional skills. Then, I hope to join an NGO that advocates for the NK human rights issue. Then, I also hope to go to China to mentor/support North Korean teenage defectors in China. If necessary, I’ll also go to graduate school. During the transition in a post-North Korea, I would like to work for the economic and political development of the country. My ultimate personal goal is to find my sister one day.
Q: Why did you decide to come to the US?
A: I only had two choices, either go to South Korea or to the U.S. But the main reason I chose to come to U.S was that I knew at least one person in America (LiNK’s founder, who I met at the LiNK shelter) versus no one in South Korea. Another reason I decided to come to the U.S. was that I believed that the U.S. offered more opportunities than in South Korea. (I did not know what opportunities I potentially would have in U.S, but I had my own expectations what could happen.) At the time, I thought that if go to South Korea, I had to learn two languages and two different cultures to be well assimilated within that society.
Even though it used to be the same country, just by watching Korean Dramas while I was in American Consulate in China, I immediately recognized that South Korea demands and highly values English in order to enter demanding private sector corporations. And from my observations, South Korea was a lot different than North Korea in many ways, but also shares fundamental basic Korean traditions. This confused me a lot. So I thought, I might as well try living in a complete different society. Above all, I knew for sure was that at least I would have the opportunity to learn English if I came to the U.S.
You can meet Joseph and other North Korean millennials at Summit.