Ilyong Ju, who escaped North Korea at the age of 12 in 2008, told the human rights group Liberty in North Korea, where he served as an advocacy fellow, that studying at a university wasn't even an option for him because his grandfather went to a political prison camp.
"My friends are still starving and are dying in North Korea. Still, now," Ju said. "So I decided that I have to do something for them."
Ju is humbled by the opportunity to give back.
His entire family escaped from North Korea. First his father. Then his mom and one of his sisters, who embarked on a three-month journey through China and Southeast Asia to a place in South Korea that he says would've taken six hours in a car. Then his older sister finally escaped. His story is the exception.
I will not stop until every North Korean gets the freedom that they deserve.
"Today, many people are dying trying to reach freedom," he said. "My dream is to be a human rights lawyer that works to protect the rights of North Korean people. So that, someday, people don't have to escape anymore, and I will not stop until every North Korean gets the freedom that they deserve."
Ju, a Christian who was one of 27 survivors of religious persecution invited to the White House in July to meet with President Trump, shared his family's story with him.
"My aunt, all of my aunt's family ... are in political prison camp now," Ju told the president. "Just because my aunt's father-in-law was a Christian and my cousin's whole family were executed because of their sharing gospel," he explained.
"But even though the persecution of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean citizens, they...want gospel and they are worshipping in underground churches right now, and even a few weeks ago we have a message from North Korean underground churches and they sent a photo of the wood. Three of them are gathered there and they were praying for South Korea," Ju said.
"So those kind of things are happening in North Korea," Ju concluded, prompting Trump to say he would bring up the issue in his talks with North Korea.
The human rights advocate, whose journey has taken him from a farm in North Korea to the White House to Korea University, wants other North Korean defectors to know that anything is possible.
"First of all, you can do anything," he said at the end of the LiNK interview. "You're not studying only for yourself, but to give back what you've received to the society and also to show the potential of the North Korean people through what you do."