To be honest, any issue surrounding North Korea has only become a recent interest of mine. I was born and raised in America, but for the past five years, I lived in Seoul. My knowledge on North Korea was nothing more than the usual news coverage on missiles and human rights abuses. But when people jokingly started to ask if I’m from the “good” or “bad” Korea in college, I realized I had surprisingly limited knowledge on North Korea. Whatever I read on the NY Times or I hear from the news, I would always readily accept media’s portrayal of North Korea without critical analysis.
I went into freshman year of college hoping to take a class on anything regarding
the Korean peninsula. To my dismay, Tufts University did not offer any classes on
Korea. As an international relations major with a concentration in international security,
I hoped to gain perspective and learn more about Korea through the MOU summer
internship. And that is exactly what I did.
Travelling to China-North Korea border, taking classes, and volunteering at
Hangyeorae gave me a perspective on almost all aspects on North Korea and unification:
its economy, human rights violation, politics, history, relations with neighboring
countries, etc. The program was well-rounded in informing us about North Korea and the
factors needed for unification. Travelling to China and climbing Mt. Baekdu helped me
understand the historical and territorial disputes between China and Korea. Volunteering
at Hangyeorae, which was probably the best part of the program, allowed me to develop a
lasting friendly relationships with the North Korean defectors.
Most importantly, this summer was rather eye-opening. One of the facts that
struck me the most was how there was a division on the thoughts of unification between
the younger and older generation in South Korea. The older generation believes in
unification—that the two Koreas must unify soon. On the other hand, the younger
generation doesn’t see the need of unification nor does the idea even frequently cross
their minds. While I was living in Seoul, the thought of unification never really crossed
my mind and when it did, those thoughts would only last a couple of seconds: unification
will probably happen, but not in the near future. Never did I realize that there are so
many domestic and international factors that need to be aligned in order for a successful
It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve been back to the States and I can already
say that the MOU summer program motivates me to tell others about how I spent my
summer. Most people are already interested when I say that my internship involves North
Korean related issues, but once I mention that my internship is focused on the North and
South Korean unification, their facial expressions change and become more interested
about the topic. As of now, I think that the international community has a limited view on
North Korea, a view that I had previous to this past summer. And yes, the international
security and the human rights violations are important issues, but those are not the only
issues at hand. Before any other step is made toward unification, it is important to get the people to think and believe that Korea will be one nation.