Words Have Wings



A visual essay depicting my journey in learning about 

North Korea through the eyes of a pastor and North Korean refugees, broadening my understand of the ambiguous country beyond media 


My knowledge of the country has always been so limited, 

mostly coming from various news entries and articles 

covering the Kim regime and missile threats.


A refugee who sought asylum in the United States.


A Korean American

pastor who lead missions in North Korea.


A refugee who sought

asylum in South Korea.

In North Korea, when I was there, minimum wage was $5 per month. 1kg (2.2lbs) of rice is $3. Because this much costs $3 they only get to have white rice on their birthdays. But the white rice is only for the birthday person. So other people have to watch and congratulate the person, saying, "hope you enjoyed the rice!"


At the end of the conversation someone said,

"You said God answered your prayers. But if God is real, then how are you still here?"

I explained that God has different plans. 

“Maybe,” I said, “his plan 

includes you. How will you

know anything about God

unless I’m here?”


I was cautious about sharing the gospel, because if someone accepted christ and someone else 

found out, that person was going to prison. 


But people would ask,“We are the guards and you are the prisoner. How come you look happier than us? Where does your joy come from?” 


 In Hanawon they teach out how South Korea works: they teach you how to use the remote, TV and elevators, etc. because we don’t know anything.We trained for 3 months. They even teach you how to ride a bus but I slept through the training.  


The day I escaped North Korea, 

I saw my mother raped. 

The rapist was a Chinese broker. 

He targeted me.

I was 13 years old.


There is a saying in North Korea: 

“Women are weak, but mothers are strong.”


Whenever there is a new South Korean drama, it will come out as pirated CD’s within 2-3 months. And the CD’s will make their way into North Korea. I obviously didn’t want to get caught so I used to lock every door, draw the curtains to not let out any light and put a blanket over my TV

so I could watch the K-drama

in hiding. 


When I was crossing the Gobi desert, scared of dying, I thought nobody in this world cared. 

It seemed that only the starts were with me. 


It’s a strange how the world views North Korea and its’ people in such a distant way when in reality they are no different from seemingly “regular” people like you

and I. 

All they want is to be recognized as such.

Copyright © Joanna Seul 2020.