I left North Korea seven days after I turned 14 without even knowing where my destination would be.
One day out of the blue my parents asked if I wanted to go and see my aunt. Just a few days later, I left with my uncle.
But when I left, I never knew I would be leaving my country. Back then, I did not even know there were things like borders.
My uncle and I hid in coal trains to get the border where, since the water was too deep for me, he put me on his shoulder to cross the Tumen River.
Then, feeling sick after my first time ever riding in a car, I remember how we arrived at someone’s house, where people spoke a different language and I was told to act deaf.
Soon we started moving from place-to-place and eventually, after climbing mountains for two nights, we somehow arrived in Vietnam.
From there we were guided to a house full of other people from North Korea, before one night we were put on a plane and went to Seoul.
And so I became a South Korean citizen, one-hundred days after leaving my hometown.
That was not long after President Roh Moo-hyun – a liberal leaning leader like Moon Jae-in – had been elected as president in 2003.
It was the era the Constitutional Court overturned an impeachment decision after Roh had been accused of illegal electioneering by opposition figures holding the majority.
Back then not only was I still very young, but when Roh Moo-hyun eventually visited Pyongyang in 2007 for the second inter-Korean summit, I was still not really following the news much.
This summit, however, feels different.
It may be because I pay more attention to news than before, or perhaps because I became an adult.
But this time I had a lot of questions on my mind when the two Koreas started talking about a potential meeting between the two leaders.
Would it really happen? If it did, what would they talk about?
Kim’s proactive attitude during the last few months – starting with the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics – gives much hope to people like me, no matter what others say about the change.
You see, it’s been almost fifteen years since I left my hometown. And if North Korea continues at the table with South Korea and the U.S., I dare to hope to be reunited with my family sometime soon.
In fact, I really want to see that day soon, so that I can see how happy my parents would be when I tell them I earned my degree in the U.S.
As Kim Jong Un said that this summit could be a starting point of peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula, I truly hope these talks are a turning point for a better future of inter-Korean relations.
And I hope they will lead to people being able to cross the border freely and to communicate without fear.
Quite a large number of Korean citizens are rather skeptical of this summit because of the last two presidents’ not-so-successful meetings.
South Korean conservatives believe that President Kim Dae-jung and President Roh Moo-hyun helped North Korea develop its nuclear weapons.
They believe the reason Kim Jong Un came to the table today is not so different from that of his father, Kim Jong Il, who met with the two former South Korean presidents respectively in 2000 and 2007.
Such people believe that all Kim Jong Un wants to do is lift economic sanctions and that the Moon administration is being fooled again, just like his predecessors were.
This summit, however, is very personal to me.
I was moved in seeing Kim Jong Un crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) today. It felt so unreal that I actually cried.
I believe I am not the only one who cried over it among North Korean defectors who have families and friends back in North Korea.
The older my parents get, the more I miss them. And the more I am afraid of the possibility that I might not ever get to see them again. Just the thought of it is extremely terrifying.
I’m therefore very excited to think that people might be allowed to cross the very same line that Kim Jong Un crossed this morning.
I have been to the DMZ several times. Every time I went there, I could see my home country in my sight, and yet it was very far to reach.
But with this summit, my dream seems no longer that far away.
If leaders truly care about what the majority of people want, I hope governments around the world can work together to end the division of the Korean Peninsula and the pain that comes from the long separation of families.
Let us be united.
Featured image: Blue House