The Right Summer Choice: An Internship with the Ministry of Unification

Decisions naturally narrow down to one of two choices: C or B on a multiple
choice exam, the ripped jeans or the faded one, college x or college y…

For the summer of 2012, my fix over what to do narrowed down to either
summer classes at Yonsei University, or a six-week internship with the Ministry of
Unification. At the time, I was strongly leaning toward summer classes at Yonsei. My
university, though boasting a strong International Relations undergraduate major
of which I was a part of, in comparison to the other concentrations one could choose
within the major, was lacking in East Asian area studies.

Yonsei provided more than a dozen of intriguing summer courses dealing
specifically with East Asia. My parents had already promised to cover the tuition
and, moreover, I could easily transfer the credits I earned back to my home
university. When I received acceptance to the MOU internship program, I was still
leaning towards the summer classes at Yonsei, but after informing my parents of
the internship, they immediately jumped onto the internship bandwagon telling me
what a great opportunity it was and how much it would benefit me in the future. I
was skeptical at the time and felt I would gain more from taking a summer full of
intensive courses than I would through an internship, even though it was with the
Ministry of Unification.

At the time, all I knew about the MOU internship was that it involved
teaching English to North Korean defectors and learning more about the situation
in North Korea. This did not particularly interest me — for the past six months I had
already been teaching English to a half-dozen North Korean defectors several times
a week and had attended numerous lectures on North Korea. As such, I wrongly
felt that I would have little to gain through the internship. However, after some
convincing on the part of my parents (and grandmother), I reluctantly did a 180 and
informed the MOU internship program coordinator of my intention to commit to the
internship program.

As it turns out, deciding to go with the MOU internship was without a doubt
the best decision I made all summer.

First off, looking back on the “internship”, I feel that the word “experience”
more aptly describes the program I had just completed. It wasn’t so much an
MOU internship; rather, it was an MOU experience. The experience of a week-
long expedition along the Sino-DPRK border. The experience of a series of highly
informative lectures (albeit all in Korean) on various topics related to North Korea
from experts in the field. The experience of interacting with dozens of bubbly middle and high school North Korean defectors for two weeks. The experience of visiting the DMZ and numerous other locations like the third invasion tunnel. The experience of traveling to the southern-most part of the country and seeing the Yeosu Expo.

The word “internship” elicits ideas of hard work and sacrifice – giving up
a summer of fun and play in order to take a step into the real world. While there
was hard work involved (in the form of two UCC video productions), I would not
include sacrifice into the description of this internship. There was fun, there was
play, and there was plenty of adventure. The opportunities that were provided to
my fellow interns and myself proved to be a real eye-opening experience into issues
of national unification and humans rights within North Korea. I will remember the
summer of 2012 as the summer that took an unexpected turn In the end, however, I
am grateful that things turned out the way they did.

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