Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo Lee profoundly moves audiences with her inspirational tale of surviving extreme adversity.


There are many reasons to hear what motivational speaker Hyeonseo Lee has to say.‘The Girl With Seven Names’, as she named her 2015 memoir, is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea. As a child, Hyeonseo thought her country was ‘the best on the planet’. She saw her first public execution when she was seven years old, but she thought her life was normal. It was not until she was exposed to extreme suffering during the famine in the 90s that she began to wonder about the outside world. In 1997, at the age of 14, Hyeonseo escaped to China—to the intriguing ‘sea of lights’ she had observed growing up from the darkness of her home. She began a life in hiding as a refugee. At one point, she was caught and interrogated by the Chinese police; terrified of being repatriated, tortured and executed, she managed to hide her childhood origins and was released. After 14 years without her family, Hyeonseo arrived in South Korea in 2008 where she struggled to adjust to life in the bustling city of Seoul; North Korean defectors often experience great hardship in the form of prejudices and identity crises as they start from scratch. Over five million people have viewed Hyeonseo’s TED Talk about her escape and attempts to bring her family to freedom after they were targeted in North Korea. Hyeonseo now speaks about North Korean human rights and refugee issues, and is pursuing her dream to work at the UN or an NGO. She has shared her story around the world – at the Stanford University Global Speaker Series, Princeton University, New York University School of Law, and various venues throughout Europe, and in interviews with countless media outlets, including the BBC, CNN, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, and Glamour magazine. As well as giving testimony in front of a special panel of the UN Security Council, she has talked with world leaders and public officials such as UN Ambassador Samantha Powers, former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and former South Korean Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik. Completing her undergraduate studies in English and Chinese at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, she has been a Young Leader at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, worked as a student journalist for the South Korean Ministry of Unification, and written articles for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the London School of Economics Big Ideas blog. She is currently writing her second book with other female North Koreans living in South Korea, and is planning to start an organization to help promising North Korean refugees interact with the international community. A powerful reminder of those who face constant danger, Hyeonseo’s tale of courage, survival and hope motivates and inspires spellbound audiences.


This profile was created by the MicDrop team with public information found from Speakers' Corner