Laura Ling speaks of captivity, journalism at Missouri Theatre

Ling, who spent 140 days in captivity in North Korea, spoke about her experience and its aftermath.

Thursday night in a crowded Missouri Theatre, journalist Laura Ling spoke about her time as a foreign correspondent in Mexico, Iran and as a captive in North Korea.

“I never truly understood what a luxury freedom is until I went out of the country and lost my own,” Ling said.

Ling opened with scenes from her time covering the drug war in Mexico, with images of mutilated bodies and broken family members.

“Violence is becoming so bad that people are becoming immune to it,” she said.

After sharing other foreign experiences in journalism, Ling spoke about how she was brought into confinement in North Korea and her 140-day captivity.

Ling was reporting in China with her colleague Euna Lee when their guide led them across an icy river into the North Korean territory.

“In that moment I relied on my instincts and my instincts failed me," Ling said. "I chose to follow him and what ensued was the most terrifying time of my life.”

Kicks to the head and jaw and a gun pointed at her head caused Ling to black out, only to wake up in captivity.

After being separated from Lee and kept in isolation, Ling said she found solace in her conversations with her guards.

Ling spoke of one giving her a simple message: “Laura, always have hope.”

Hope came in the form of letters for Ling. She said she received them from time to time and read them until she memorized the words.

Ling said she and her husband, who was in Los Angeles, would look out the window at the same time each day and just think about each other.

Ling also spoke about her path to freedom, and about former President Bill Clinton as her liaison to freedom.

The reason Clinton took on this role was because of Kim Jong Il’s respect for the former president that blossomed after receiving Clinton’s phone call of condolences, before even North Korea's allies.

“Even the smallest actions have a huge impact, it can change lives, it can save lives,” Ling said.

Ling closed her talk with an excerpt of "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou and a lesson.

“I urge you all to cherish the freedoms you have and be a voice for those who don’t,” she said.

Students said they came out to hear Ling speak because of their admiration of her.

“I came here as a Chinese woman thinking I had a lot in common with Laura,” MU graduate student Yue Zhang said. “I want to be a journalist in the United States, and I think Laura’s personal and professional experiences are brave and inspirational. She is such a natural speaker.”

Freshman Katie Sontheimer said she came out to see Ling speak after reading the Mizzou Reads book, "Nothing to Envy."

"I was curious after reading the book," Sontheimer said. "I think Laura came from a very humanistic perspective. It was enjoyable."

Freshman Melody Myers said her takeaway from the event was Ling’s advice.

“Hearing her speak inspires me as a journalist,” Myers said.

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