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Shin Dong Hyuk, North Korean Defector

Shin Dong-Hyuk

In a rare opportunity for Southern California, Pomona College will host North Korean defectors Kim Hak-Min and Shin Dong-Hyuk for a public talk: “Defector Dialogues: From Life in North Korea to Defection, Adjustment and Reunification” at 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 21. Pomona College Politics Professor Tom Le will also provide commentary with a focus on policy and politics regarding the North Korean crisis.

Kim Hak-Min, North Korean Defector

Kim Hak-Min

The event will take place at Smith Campus Center’s Edmunds Ballroom on the Pomona College campus, 170 E. Sixth Street, Claremont. The talk is free and open to the public but RSVP is required. Catered Korean food will be served.

“With all the debates on the value of freedom of speech in the United States, hearing from two individuals who come from a country where speaking out against the leadership can be punishable by death is a good reminder of why freedom of speech is so critical to the lifeblood of this country,” says Le.

As bleak as life is for most North Koreans, it’s often just as challenging for those who flee. Risking everything to escape from North Korea, defectors embark on an extreme period of adjustment in foreign countries, and in the case of Kim and Shin, they also serve as voices bringing attention to the humanitarian side of the crisis. In their first public talk together, Kim and Shin will explore life in and outside of North Korea, as well as the topics of reunification and nuclear politics from their perspective as defectors.

One of the most prominent North Korean defectors, Shin was born to two prisoners in an internment camp. After witnessing and experiencing countless acts of brutality, and a number of failed attempts to defect, he made a successful escape in 2005 through China, making it to South Korea. Since his defection, Kim has worked for North Korean human rights, becoming the subject of Blaine Harden’s New York Times bestseller, “Escape from Camp 14,” providing testimony for the United Nations’ first commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, as well as working for the nonprofit Liberty in North Korea. He’s the author of “Escape to the Outside World,” a 2007 Korean-language account of his horrific upbringing.

Originally from the northernmost province in North Korea, Kim was detained by police for watching Korean dramas and American films, but was able to escape from prison with the help of fellow inmates. He then escaped into China and made his way via Thailand to South Korea, where he began attending Sogang University in 2014 for electronic engineering, and established his electronics repair company just a year later.

“The media has been fixated on the North Korean nuclear threat,” adds Le. “It is important to remember the human consequences of this standoff between the rogue regime and the rest of the world. Solving the nuclear crises will require a political solution, whereas the humanitarian crises will require so much more.”

The event is the brainchild of Pomona College student John Park ’19, who is the founder and president of Bluebird NK, a global nonprofit dedicated to the education and mentorship of North Korean defectors.

“While North Korea is prominent as an international interest again, the spotlight is focused almost exclusively on the threat of war," says Park. "My intent for this event is to emphasize the lived experiences of defectors, pairing them with East Asian policy in order to better contextualize the issue. Presenting the challenges of defectors and ordinary North Koreans, interwoven with nuclear politics, will provide a bigger picture that includes the topic of reunification of the peninsula."

To RSVP to the event, visit:

Free event, but registration required. Attendance limited to 300.

This event is presented by Bluebird NK and is part of Free Speech in a Dangerous World, a series exploring the relationship between free speech on campus and diversity and inclusion across disciplines and contexts. Presenting different viewpoints and global perspectives, the series examines the central goals of liberal education, including fostering difficult dialogues, academic freedom, and promoting diversity and inclusive excellence.

Event Contact

Saturday, October 21, 2017 6:00 pm
  • Pomona College
  • Edmunds Ballroom, Smith Campus Center
  • 170 E. Sixth Street
General Public
Pomona Faculty and Staff
Pomona Students
Claremont Colleges Community