Update I am logging off! Thank you so much for all the great questions! I can tell by the questions that many people here care about the North Korean people and know that they are different from the regime. I wish I had more time to answer more questions but it is my last night in America before going back to South Korea and I want to eat some great NYC food! I will try to answer some questions later tonight if I have some time :)


My name is Joy and I’m from North Korea. I escaped to China when I was 18 but was immediately trafficked and sold as a bride to a Chinese man for $3,000 USD. Life was difficult, but I gave birth to a daughter who became the joy of my life. After 2 years I was offered an opportunity to finally escape. I reached freedom through a 3,000-mile rescue route that brought me to Southeast Asia, and from there I flew to South Korea. Because the journey out of China is incredibly dangerous for North Koreans, I had to leave my daughter behind. I now live in South Korea and I am studying social work to help North Korean women who have also been trafficked. I hope to bring my daughter to South Korea to live with me one day.

Because I have family in North Korea that could face punishment if my identity was revealed, I cannot share my real name or show my face.

Proof: Instagram Facebook Blog

I am joined today by Ian and Sarah of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Together, we are in NYC promoting LiNK’s new film Sleep Well, My Baby. It is a short film about a North Korean woman who was trafficked and sold in China, and it is based on the real stories of North Korean women like myself. I’m still learning English, so Sarah will be translating for me and Ian will be typing.

Liberty in North Korea is an international NGO dedicated to supporting the North Korean people. LiNK brings North Korean refugees through a 3,000-mile, modern-day 'underground railroad' to freedom and safety. To date they have rescued more than 700 North Korean refugees. These refugees drive change inside the country by sending money and outside information back to friends and family. LiNK also works to change the narrative on North Korea by producing documentaries, hosting events, and engaging with the international media to bring more focus to the North Korean people and the bottom-up changes they are driving in their country. The vision of LiNK is a free North Korea in our lifetimes.

Ok enough background. Let’s get started - please ask me anything!

Comments: 4416 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

Pippidypipe6152 karma

What was the part of the day you looked forward to most when you lived in north korea?

joy_from_north_korea7986 karma

Whenever I had something delicious to eat! I really looked forward to preparing the food and enjoying it with my family.

wetwork9996059 karma

Hello Joy (and Sarah!) This is John From L.A. (I did your hair for the fundraiser last month) I just wanted to ask how can you get your daughter out of China so she can come live with you?

joy_from_north_korea5932 karma

Hi John! Thanks again for the great hair style. I can get my daughter if the man's family will allow me to take her. It will be difficult right now to bring her to South Korea because they want to keep her. I also want to finish university so I can get a job which will allow me to provide for her if she comes to South Korea.

Eranou2873993 karma

Was there a certain event that happened in your life in North Korea that made you decide you wanted to escape?

joy_from_north_korea5147 karma

My step-mother wanted me to get married and I wasn't ready. I was only 18 and needed to find a way to make money to provide for myself. I thought I could go to China and find a well-paying job.

Mollusktshirt3665 karma

Thank you so much for doing this. You, and LiNK are wonderful.

What kind of stigmas do you face in South Korea as a North Korean? How difficult is it for you to "come out" as a North Korean?

joy_from_north_korea8825 karma

I face the most discrimination when I apply for jobs in South Korea. When I have an interview, the South Korean employer can usually tell I have a North Korean accent. They will then tell me they do not hire North Koreans and end the interview right then. That happens about 7 out of 10 interviews.

s0undboy3481 karma

What kind of stuff do they teach in North Korean schools about western civilization?

joy_from_north_korea6926 karma

I did not spend much time in school because of how difficult life was for us. The Great Famine left us without food and we needed to work on the farms instead of going to school. I remember textbooks always portrayed America as a terrible place and Americans as evil. We were told that the South and North could not reunite because America wanted to keep our countries separated to weaken us.

tagriel3029 karma

How was your original escape to China orchestrated? Did your family help, and if not, how did you plan it as an 18-year-old with restricted contact with the outside world?

You are incredibly brave and your work now to become a social worker shows your nobility and goodness as well. I wish you and your daughter the best

joy_from_north_korea4745 karma

My step-mother wanted me to marry so I would not be her responsibility anymore. I heard rumors that I could escape to China and be adopted by an older Chinese couple and live a happy life there. My step-mother knew a broker who convinced me to go to China.

The broker guided me to the Tumen river and told me when and where to cross. When I was picked up on the other side the broker told me to pay for my escape or be sold as a bride. I had no money and was terrified of being arrested by the Chinese police. I felt so trapped.

zook542566 karma

I've seen photos of average people in N. Korea. Only the children seem to ever smile. Is this cultural? Or us it due to the awful life adults must face each day?

joy_from_north_korea4123 karma

It is not cultural, I think young North Korean children are not really aware how difficult life is. But I know plenty of adults that smile too!

ld432332491 karma

How's your diet compare to what you ate in North Korea? and do you plan to stay in South Korea or do you plan to go somewhere else? I hear Canada is nice.

joy_from_north_korea3714 karma

The food in North Korea is similar to South Korean food. The food is spicier and saltier in the North.

Unless there is a reason for me to stay in South Korea, I am open to living anywhere after I finish university. I like South Korea but don't feel the need to stay.

Dr-Mantis-Tobogan2776 karma

Come to Canada!!!! We will accept you with open arms :)

joy_from_north_korea3391 karma

Canadians always seem to be so nice!

cruyff82479 karma

How does the Korean spoken in the South differ from the North?

joy_from_north_korea4719 karma

Because the North Korean government is so militaristic, the language is very direct and authoritative. South Korean's are more passive in the way they use Korean.

Also, in South Korea they borrow so many English words and it was hard to learn all these new "Korean" words.

MrEuropaDiscoDancer1998 karma

Hi. Your story sounds horrific and harrowing. I’m glad you’re okay. I hope your daughter can be delivered to you safely.

What is North Korea like? Is it anything like the news stories we see on the television? Is it better or worse? Are there any myths about North Korea that are spread by the western media? I’m guessing you didn’t like it, hence the defection.
How likely is it you will see your daughter soon, and how will you be able to get her back?
What action can be taken to help stop human sex trafficking? I’d like to help if I can, but I don’t know how much use I’d be.

Thanks in advance, and thank you for doing this AMA. Hope you see your daughter soon. :)

joy_from_north_korea3806 karma

Good questions! There is so much focus in the western media about North Korea's military and nuclear weapons. There is rarely any stories about average North Koreans, especially those that live outside the capital Pyongyang. Most North Koreans are ordinary people that want to live peaceful lives but the media makes it look like every North Korean wants to destroy America or South Korea.

Everything in the underground broker networks revolves around money. North Korean women that cannot afford to cross the border are told it is free to cross and then when they cannot pay on the other side they are sold instead. That was my experience. If you want to get involved in helping North Korean women avoid sex trafficking you should fund rescues through organizations like LiNK. The safest way a woman can avoid being trafficked is to have her rescue paid for before she leaves the country. Then when she crosses she can enter a safe network that can move her out of China before she is exploited.

LifeWin1466 karma

Thank you for doing an AMA. I lived in South Korea for a while, and when I would talk to the locals, they all held an opinion not of disdain for North Korea, but more like regret. They seem to all wish very much for a peaceful reunification of the two nations.

My question is this: all the news of North Korea is almost inconceivably dreadful. While I'm sure there is much misery in the country, can you tell us a story of a time when you or your family were genuinely happy? What sort of things bring joy to the average North Korean?

joy_from_north_korea2525 karma

My fondest memories from North Korea revolve around my family. Everyday when my mom would come home she would give me a big hug and I loved that. I also have great memories of family talent shows where we would sign karaoke late into the night!

SumpTrucks21115 karma

Hi Joy, I actually have two questions:

  1. What is the most outrageous piece of propaganda that you heard regarding the Kim family in North Korea?

  2. Was your relationship with the Chinese man abusive in any way?

joy_from_north_korea2621 karma

  1. I remember that a textbook once said that Kim Il-song turned a pinecone in a bomb during the Korean War and killed many Americans with it. As a child I thought it was totally true. Now I laugh at how impossible that is!

  2. The man was not abusive to me. I was lucky in that sense. But it was still so hard to be forced to be with someone that bought me.

cyajobin1108 karma

Joy, thanks so much for sharing your experiences, and thanks Ian and Sarah for being a part of such a great organization.

How has your experience in New York City been so far? How does it compare to the culture in which you were raised?

joy_from_north_korea2497 karma

I am happy to share :)

New York City is so bright at night! There are so many lights! The buildings are so tall here. I also love the diversity here, there are people from all over the world on every street. In North Korea I never saw someone from another country.

smbac856 karma

I have interviewed many North Koreans now settled in the UK. Many of them told me they had been caught by the Chinese police and repatriated to the north a number of times, but managed to escape again and again.


Can you explain why they didn't face harsh consequences for escaping in North Korea?

joy_from_north_korea1630 karma

Ian here: It all depends on where they were caught and the circumstances around their arrest in China. If they are caught close to the border with China, it is easier to convince the North Korean authorities that they were in China for economic reasons and intended to come back. If they are caught closer to the border with Southeast Asia it is obvious they were trying to defect and that can carry much harsher consequences. If it is discovered that a North Korean had contact with a South Korean or Christians anywhere in China, that can also increase the chances of facing much harsher punishments. The North Korean government is also incredibly corrupt and bribes from family members to local officials can have an impact on one's sentencing.

mike8545844 karma

What is a funeral ceremony like in North Korea for the average citizen?

joy_from_north_korea1920 karma

Where I lived people were buried after three days in a small coffin. No one I knew was ever cremated. I once heard about a North Korean grandmother who was scheduled to be buried but woke up and scared everyone in the village when they realized she was still alive!

umair_101773 karma

If you get your daughter back from china and the Chinese authorities catch you, isn't there a chance that they WILL hand you over back to North Korea?

joy_from_north_korea1938 karma

I am now a South Korean citizen! That means that when I go to China I am there on a visa and they have no reason to arrest me. It will be hard to get my daughter back without the permission of the family who bought me. If I just try to take her back it would be considered kidnapping by the Chinese government.

TechnocratNextDoor765 karma

Do you expect to see the current regime in North Korea fall within your lifetime?

joy_from_north_korea1715 karma

I am not sure. If I am lucky, I have another 60 years of life so maybe by the end of my life I will have the chance to go back to see my hometown.

OddityTime749 karma

Is North Korea really as bad as the media portrays it? Is it better? Is it worse?

joy_from_north_korea1914 karma

It is much worse than the way media portrays it. They are so focused on the military and showing scenes of Pyongyang when average North Koreans are really struggling to survive. I wish they would show how normal North Koreans who are trying to live normal lives despite the cruelness of the regime.


How many people would you say actually believe all the propaganda by the government, how many think Kim Il Sung is a God?

joy_from_north_korea1632 karma

Most people that live by the Chinese border know that the propaganda is fake. They have a lot of exposure to foreign media that is smuggled in through China. The people that believe the propaganda usually live in secluded areas with little access to outside media.

Chanlet07695 karma

I just want to say how amazing it is you have been able to overcome such obstacles! Please continue to strive and move forward! I am sorry for what has happened to you, and the obstacles you have had to face. I hope you have a content and hopeful future! Also, my question is. How old are you?

joy_from_north_korea996 karma

Thank you so much for those kind words. I am now 25! My birthday is soon :)

Keurum600 karma

Firstly I want to say that your story really touched my heart! You are an amazing and strong woman, and I wish you the best for the future! My questions are: What culture shocks did you face when you came to South Korea? And how different are the North and South Korean cultures? I'm thinking differences in body language, language, food, customs, values, beliefs, etc... How difficult/easy is it for a North Korean to adapt to Korean society? Is there a lot of discrimination towards North Koreas living in South Korea? (I'm a university student at a university in Sweden and for my final assignment my thesis is how the 65+ years divided have changed the Korean culture, your answers will be of great help, thank you!)

joy_from_north_korea1457 karma

The first big cultural shock was when I saw South Korean women is very short skirts! North Korean culture is more socially conservative so I was very surprised to see couples in the South holding hands and kissing in public.

Korean society is very family oriented. It was very hard at first to adapt in the South when I didn't have a family to see or talk to anymore. On holidays I didn't know what to do because I had no family.

The South Korean language has so many strange words that are borrowed from English. That took some time to get used to!

It was also difficult to decide on what to study and what career to pursue. In North Korea, I didn't get to choose what my future would look like. It was kind of overwhelming to choose a path to take when there were so many choices.

RickyBubbles01510 karma

Did you live in Pyongyang or elsewhere? Did anyone that you know get sent to one of the gulags/prison camps? If so, what for? What was your day-to-day routine like in North Korea? How hard was it to cross the border?

joy_from_north_korea1318 karma

Only people that are deemed loyal by the regime are allowed to live in Pyongyang. I live in the northern part of the country which made it easier to cross into China. I knew many people that disappeared and it was rumored they were taken to prison camps. There was never a way to confirm it, they just vanished one day.

cicIope404 karma

1- What do you think about tourism companies offering trips to North Korea and the people that go on those trips? Do you think that it's just money that goes to the regime or that it helps in some way the locals?

2- Do you still have family in NK? If so, are you considering getting them out?

3- Have you met Yeonmi Park and Hyeonseo Lee? Do you relate to their stories?

4- Are you considering writing a memoir?

5- What city did you live in in NK? Did you ever have some kind of romantic relationship or held hands with someone?

joy_from_north_korea789 karma

I have kept a diary that I hope to one day turn into a book!

I do have family in North Korea and I get to talk to them often through special brokers that sneak Chinese phones into North Korea. If they wanted to come out I would help them but my grandmother is very old and my father is very sick and too weak to make the dangerous journey.

I do not want to disclose the city I lived in to protect my family but it was in the Northern part of the country.

dspencer97393 karma

How do people in North Korea perceive Dennis Rodman as a person?

joy_from_north_korea844 karma

I don't even know who that is! Ian and Sarah just had to tell me about his relationship with Kim Jung Un.