Last summer was the first time I was in Korea for longer than a short visit. It was also the first time I met Korean students, people who worked for the Korean government, and North Korean defectors. In a nutshell, August was a whirlwind learning experience:
- We attended an orientation, where we met the other interns as well as the Vice Minister
- Attended workshops on the new social media of Facebook and Twitter
- Visited the Joint Security Area (JSA)
- Toured the DMZ (during which we had discussions, heard testimonies from the North Korean defectors on the trip, and learned about the historical sites from subsequent tourguide lectures)
- Visited Hana Centers in Gyeonggi Province and learned about the settlement process North Koreans go through when they come to South Korea
- Volunteered and lived amongst the students at the Hangyeoulleh Middle and High School for students who had come from North Korea (Some of us were interviewed for radio programs during this time as well.)
- Volunteered at the Hana Centers (part of the settlement process for North Koreans)
- Met the Governor of Gyeonggi Province
- Visited the actual Ministry and their special library
- Had a closing meal with some Ministry officials and the Vice Minister himself.
Since last summer, I’ve been writing articles for this blog, keeping in contact with the other interns, and preparing to send a new team of OneKorea interns to Korea this summer. While I was in Korea for the fall semester, I also did some student journalist work at the Korea Global Forum.
How can I summarize my experience in Korea in one page? The end of our time with the Ministry was bittersweet–those few weeks were so intense that it was good to rest, but at the same time I had learned so much and made such valuable relationships that I was sad our time together was over.
I definitely learned more about the complexities of North Korea and why, as someone told me last semester, focusing just on the refugees/defectors, or just on the human rights issues there, is admirable but not exactly the whole picture. The issue of unification is definitely one that I have been mulling over, and I think my view of what North Korea most needs and suffers most from before has changed. Before, I was pained over the concentration camps, prisons, starvation, economic turmoil and lack of freedom. Now, I also think about the difficulties North Koreans face outside of North Korea, the historical background for how things got to this point, how the relationship between American and North Korea has affected my view of these issues, and the new perspectives that being in South Korea has taught me.
Due to my internship with the Ministry of Unification, I am more passionate for and aware of unification and (by extension) North Korean issues. I am determined to stay aware of what is going on in the Korean peninsula and keep others around me informed. And who knows about the future? One day maybe I can be one of the policy makers that has a say on North Korean issues. The more I study East Asian issues and see what is going on in the world, the more I am thankful for my experience as a OneKorea intern and now as an Overseas Student Correspondent. It is a privilege to have been given such an in-depth and in-person opportunity to see and experience what is going on in the effort to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.