A North Korean defector says going to Columbia University reminded her of the oppressive regime, saying she felt forced to 'think the way they want you to think'

A North Korean defector says going to Columbia University reminded her of the oppressive regime, saying she felt forced to 'think the way they want you to think'
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North Korean defector Yeonmi Park
Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, in a recent interview with Fox News. Fox News
  • Yeonmi Park, 27, escaped from North Korea at the age of 13 and is now a US citizen.

  • In 2016, she transferred to Columbia University and said the experience was jarring.

  • She told Fox News the culture of political correctness reminded her of living under the Kim regime.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A North Korean defector has told Fox News that she fears for the future of the US after attending Columbia University, where she said the atmosphere reminded her of her days under the oppressive Kim regime.

Yeonmi Park, 27, has spoken frequently about her harrowing escape from North Korea at the age of 13 with her mother. She is now a US citizen.

In recent years, Park has appeared often in the news to speak about life in North Korea, and to criticise Kim Jong Un's regime, as well as comment on Asian and American politics. She has been interviewed by the New York Post, The Sun, NBC News, The Guardian, NPR, and The Telegraph. She has also written op-eds for The New York Times and The Washington Post.

In 2016, Park transferred from a South Korean university to Columbia University in New York, and told Fox News in an interview on Monday that the transition was jarring.

She described a culture of political correctness at the Ivy League institution that she said rivaled the thought-policing that happened in her native country.

"I expected that I was paying this fortune, all this time and energy, to learn how to think. But they are forcing you to think the way they want you to think," Park told Fox News. "I realized, 'Wow, this is insane.' I thought America was different, but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying."

Columbia University
Columbia University's campus. Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images

In one example, Park said she was scolded by a staff member for expressing a like for Jane Austen's novels.

"I said, 'I love those books.' I thought it was a good thing," Park said.

"Then she said, 'Did you know those writers had a colonial mindset? They were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.'"

Columbia University did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on this story.

Park said she also found it bizarre that professors asked students what their pronouns were, and complained about using gender-neutral pronouns.

"English is my third language. I learned it as an adult. I sometimes still say 'he' or 'she' by mistake, and now they are going to ask me to call them 'they'?" she said. "How the heck do I incorporate that into my sentences?"

"It was chaos. It felt like the regression in civilization," Park said.

"Even North Korea is not this nuts. North Korea is pretty crazy, but not this crazy," she added.

Park said her experience at Columbia made her believe that American students were losing the ability to think critically, something she said she is all too familiar with from her time in North Korea.

"In North Korea I literally believed that my Dear Leader was starving," she said. "He's the fattest guy - how can anyone believe that? And then somebody showed me a photo and said, 'Look at him. He's the fattest guy. Other people are all thin.' And I was like, 'Oh my God, why did I not notice that he was fat?' Because I never learned how to think critically."

"That is what is happening in America," she said.

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