In 2008 Grace Jo settled in the United States after leaving North Korea. “A defector’s journey is like walking a tightrope… if you miss a step and fall, it is very hard to recover,” she said at a forum hosted by the Global Peace Foundation and US Korea Institute at SAIS at John Hopkins University. “I wouldn’t be here without the people with a big heart for North Korea.” Grace is among tens of thousands of North Korean who seek to leave in search of family or new opportunities. There are only 180 North Koreans who have made the United States their new home.

Grace’s two younger brothers died of starvation. At a forum at John Hopkins University Grace expressed, “Why do mothers have to abandon their loved children at home and cross the river to China and be sold like animals? Why do fathers have to face life in prison over a bag of rice? Why do children have to beg on the streets without any news of their parents? Why do people have to suffer in fear of unjust punishment every day? Why do people escape North Korea only to die in China?” Her older sister attempted to leave for China and has since lost touch with the family. It has been 18 years since Grace has heard from her sister.

“Even as I am sitting here, I wonder if she has been married or with someone through the sex trafficking ring in China, whether she made her escape to another country, or if she is simply gone.”

Today Grace balances school and advocacy work, speaking at public forums on the situation of the Korean people and supporting avenues for humanitarian efforts and service to support resettlement of North Koreans.

The original story appears on Global Peace Foundation. Grace Jo spoke at a forum co-hosted by the Global Peace Foundation and the US Korea Institute at SAIS at John Hopkins University.