Timothy Cho was born in North Korea where he was separated from his parents and became homeless. He was imprisoned four times and managed to escape his home country twice, finally succeeding on the second occasion after seeking refuge in an in American International School. He was then deported to the Philippines and later sought asylum in the UK arriving in 2008. In the 15 years since, Tim has gone from not knowing a word of English to graduating from Salford in 2016 with a degree in Politics, after which he secured a Masters from the University of Liverpool in International Relations and Security.

He has become a passionate campaigner and spokesperson on all issues around North Korea, addressing the United Nations and the European Parliament multiple times. Now, Tim works as an inquiry clerk for the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and has previously worked with Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton. Timothy has stood as a candidate in the local elections the last three times, increasing his vote share each time.

In this very special episode of Talking Salford, Timothy shared his story with us.

Timothy told us that some of the mental and physical scars of his time in prison still exist today “I cried a lot so many times. Sometimes you’re reading about prison camp stories or someone’s torture or war at a time, and you don’t even want to turn the lights off in bed.

Speaking of his struggle, Timothy said: “We discover who we are in our hearts. You create your identity of being a loved person, you are a valuable person. I think that was hugely important for me. Once I had done so, and I had my faith in me, I could fight against it.”

Timothy arrived in England without knowing the language. Settling down in Bolton he set to learning the local dialect. He said: “I wanted to go to a community college, but they said I had to wait. I was walking down a street in Bolton when I saw a community church. I went in to attend a service, but the church building was also feeding homeless people.

“I asked if there was anything I could help with and they asked if I could wash dishes and I said yes, I can. From then on, I washed dishes and coffee cups. I learned how to make tea and coffee. For each tea and coffee I made, in return, I asked them for an English word. So literally I learned from homeless people hundreds of English words.”

It was from learning these English words that Timothy was able to make his way to the University of Salford. After working towards a politics degree, spending hours in the library and long nights trying to learn English, Timothy has become a prominent advocate for Human Rights in North Korea.

Timothy said: “I went to the Netherlands. They asked me to share my experience of how I escaped from that country. It was not easy to talk about, but I think with politics I was starting slowly so I could learn more about it.”

“With human rights violations, we have to ask why it has it been caused. Is it ideological drivers or has it been caused because of personal ambition or dictatorial systems?”

We can’t thank Timothy enough for sharing his inspiring story with us. Talking Salford is a brand new podcast from the University of Salford featuring stories from our fantastic alumni, from the heart of our campus. You can listen to new episodes when you subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from.