N. Korean envoy arrives in Geneva for talks with U.S.

GENEVA, Oct. 23 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s top negotiator has arrived in Geneva for a second round of bilateral meeting with his U.S. counterpart as part of diplomatic efforts to resume long-stalled negotiations on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs. Continue reading

The DMZ: A Thin Wilderness

South Korea is a mountainous and crowded country. High hills and low mountains are in view no matter where you go, but there are also fifty million people on the peninsula. So, wherever there is flat land, there is a city. The cities, towns, and farms spread over the low-lying areas like water, and nearly all the undeveloped areas are in the heart of mountains.

The DMZ is an exception. Whether it crosses mountains or lowlands, it is wilderness: it stretches blank and empty like a thin belt across the waist of Korea, uncaring of topography. You can track it on a satellite map by the narrow band of darker green marking it out from the towns and farmlands to the southern side. It very roughly traces the 38th parallel of north latitude, extending two kilometers to either side. It is heavily fenced, mined, and guarded, but attracts some visitors, of whom I was one this summer.

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

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Hanawon, Hangyeorae, and Assimilation

By Diana Linton

Before my two-week stay at Hangyeorae High School for the Ministry of Unification 2011 summer internship, I had been concerned with measurements toward assimilation. However, I found that my short stay at Hangyeore transformed my understanding of the assimilation process and changed the opinions I had of assimilation. Continue reading

A Week at a Refugee Center

By Jay McNair

The Ministry of Unification provides support to a North Korean refugee center in the green suburbs of Seoul. They also support refugee centers across the country, but this is the one I visited. Generally that support comes in as money, guidance, computers, and similar contributions, but this week it came in the form of two interns assigned to help the center’s youth director in whatever work he needed done.

If you’ve read any earlier posts, you might recall this youth director’s character as a double-cell-phone wielding dynamo driving a minivan. Ah, fond memories of that minivan. Continue reading

Master Key

It’s so nice to see these kids having a good time. Knowing that they’re just normal kids.

We’re at Hangyeorae Boarding School, the place where North Korean teenage defectors go to catch up with the crazy South Korean education system.

I watched the high school boys play soccer one night in the rain. We were supposed to go take a tour of the community garden, but when 7:00 came some boys were rounding up their friends and trying to track down cleats and a ball and we knew that the garden thing couldn’t compete. So instead a few friends and I walked up the hill to watch them play. A typical high school boys’ impromptu soccer game of Shirts vs. Skins.

One of the first things you notice is the far team’s goalie, a boy known to us as Master Key—if there is a better nickname I am not aware. Continue reading

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Nothing to Envy

By Michelle Trujillo

To be honest, it has not been very long since I decided to make North Korean human rights my goal, my devotion in life. I went to college thinking I would later become a psychologist and counsel young children. What I didn’t know was that several chance encounters would have me graduating college as a political science major fervent about bringing freedom to North Korea. I could tell you about all of these special encounters but today I’d like to focus on just one: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

Barbara Demick is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has been interviewing North Korean refugees and defectors since 2001, when she moved to Seoul. During her stay in Korea, she has interviewed over a hundred defectors. Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six of those North Korean defectors, all from the same North Korean town but as different from one another as is possible. Continue reading

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Hangyeorae Boarding School

James—standing at the border between darkness and a new day?

An hour to the south of Seoul there is a boarding school attended exclusively by North Korean defectors.

It’s a modernist-looking building set back in the mountains, about fifteen minutes away from nowhere. Middle and high school students attend. I have spent a fair amount of time in other schools in Korea, and this one feels completely different. Not least in design: although South Korea seems to have hired the exact same architect to draft all of its other public schools, this school follows a different paradigm, with massive gray concrete forming twin north and south buildings, divided by a four-story open-air hallway that creates a deep gulf between them; but the buildings are joined by the congress of these high school kids going back and forth between them, the whole thing a potent architectural metaphor for the Korean peninsula.

But, beyond design, the general spirit of the place is very different from other schools I’ve seen. This school felt remarkable. Continue reading