Imagine an internship where your interests are a priority. Now add being treated with respect. And then add on top of that field trips every week to some of the most interesting places in South Korea. And as a bonus, go ahead and add the opportunity to eat some of the best food in Seoul with some of the most important people within the Ministry of Unification. Sound too good to be true? Usually, it would be. But, believe it or not, all of this, and so much more, is what the MOU summer internship was like for me. Hopefully I have your attention by now, so let me give you some more details.
The MOU overseas correspondents’ internship is specifically for American college and graduate students who have an interest in North Korean affairs. Beginning in June, it is roughly thirteen weeks long and is divided into two parts. The first half is comprised of office work within different bureaus of the Ministry of Unification, lectures by substantial persons of MOU, and field trips. It is a joint internship with MOU’s internship program for South Korean college students studying abroad. If you are a Korean citizen attending college outside of Korea, you should go ahead and check that out also. The second part is field work, which provides an opportunity to gain hands-on experience of the various projects that MOU does or supports. I’ll explain more of what this means throughout the article.
For the office work aspect of the internship, I was assigned to the Intelligence Analysis Bureau (IAB). I know, it sounds pretty grand and to be honest it really is. The atmosphere of this office is intense. You don’t see people chit chatting over their cubicles or standing by the water fountain to catch up. It’s dead quiet and all you see is people hunched over their computers or speaking important things into a telephone. For the entire four weeks that I was there, I never saw anyone take a break other than for lunch. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I saw anyone even get up from their desks to use the restroom, either. That’s how dedicated they are to their jobs. Or that’s just how busy they are.
The Intelligence Analysis Bureau manages all intelligence that is related to North Korea. They look over every word that the North Korean government speaks and basically analyzes North Korea’s every move. If you really think about it, that’s A LOT of stuff to go through. And because of the nature of their job, this also means that the people working in this office are required to work around the clock. If North Korea decides to release an official statement at 3 in the morning that means that the IAB staff must also report to work. Koreans have a stereotype of being workaholics and looking at these people, it’s probably true. But you have to understand the importance of their job. They are the first people to know about North Korea’s statements and this is important because it allows the South Korean government to be able to foretell the North’s possible actions.
My duties as an intern at the Intelligence Analysis Bureau included analyzing some of North Korea’s statements and past actions. But really, I think I spent most of the time trying to familiarize myself with technical and political details of North Korea and its actions. I was sent to this bureau because I speak fluent Korean but the technical language that I had to read for my tasks was beyond me. I mean, these were words that I have never seen in all of my life. I spent the first week trying to translate a major document that was important for me to know and it took a whole day to translate one page. Yes, one page. It was a long and difficult week. But once I got past that, I really started to enjoy the work. I became familiar with the terms and the concepts and learned a lot of interesting facts that I otherwise would never have known.
Each intern is assigned to one mentor who acts as your supervisor, which is something I really appreciated. My mentor was a deputy director at the IAB and I loved having her as my mentor. She was so helpful and especially patient with me as I tried to get acquainted with the unfamiliar terms and information. She was even concerned that she was overburdening me when it was my fault that I was being so slow. That’s another thing that I loved about this internship. I could really tell that everyone really had our interests in mind and wanted to do all that they could to help us. When most people think about internships, they picture college students making photocopies all day and doing lots of copying and pasting on computers. This internship was nothing like that. MOU didn’t care if we weren’t able to help substantially, just as long as we learned from the internship experience. And that’s another thing. Learning. I would say that MOU’s biggest goal to achieve through offering this internship is to educate young people about North Korean affairs and what the Korean government is doing in relation to it. And educate, they did. We had lectures every Monday by prominent figures within MOU and learned a lot of the insider details about what MOU does.
There’s also the field trips. We traveled in a huge bus every Thursday to various sites around South Korea that is important to the North Korean issue. Some of the sites that we visited include the Joint Security Area of the DMZ, Hanawon, the Cheonan ship memorial site, the Third Tunnel dug illegally by North Korea to infiltrate South Korea, Dora Mountain Train Station, and Hangyeorae High School. Some of these places are off limits to the common person and need special permission to visit so this was really a privilege. As you can see, MOU really made an effort to make this an educational experience for us.
That’s all for today. I’ll be writing about the second part of the internship in my next article so stay tuned!
Photos 1, 2, 3, and 9 have been taken from MOU’s official website.
All other photos are property of the author’s.