I am a graduate student specializing in Econometrics, and despite being the only overseas correspondent who does not study something along the lines of international relations and/or politics, I have always been fascinated by North Korea, specifically, and Asia/the Korean Peninsula, generally. This was also the driving reason for my first visit to Asia in 2010, when I studied in Hong Kong during my exchange semester.
Personally, it is very hard to accurately outline the exact reasons behind my strong interest in North Korea and Korean (re)unification. Perhaps being from Germany partially explains why I have naturally been more exposed to the issue of unification. At the age of 16, I started watching a documentary about North Korea on Google video. Without knowing exactly why, I continued to watch the next documentary and then another one. What I do know is that I have become so fascinated and interested that, today, I have watched all available documentaries I can find online and am a regular guest in the Asian section of my University’s library. The trigger to get actively involved and apply for an internship at MOU was reading the book called Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, a book that I very much recommend anyone who is interested in North Korea to read.
My time at MOU this summer was extremely interesting, to say the least. What made it truly interesting was the diversity of the program, which enabled us to see and do a lot of different things. The week at the Unification Education Center offered a very different, at least with respect to my own preconceptions, perspective about South Korea’s approach towards its Northern neighbor. Personally, this was a good experience because it broadened my understanding and enabled me to also take on a South Korean perspective.
The best part of the program was the time I spent at Hangyeore High School. This was a very rewarding, albeit sometimes quite shocking, experience because actually talking to and interacting with North Koreans is very different than reading about it in a book, however good that book may be. Each one of us was assigned to one North Korean student and, while the first step is always the hardest, it was really possible to see how this relationship evolved and grew for two weeks. One of the things that struck me most was the power of sports. Almost all students really enjoyed playing sports and it was great to see how similar people from all over the world really are and how quickly it is possible to overcome initial barriers, despite not sharing a common language or cultural background, through such seemingly simple games like basketball or badminton.
Even though it has not always been easy, I am very glad to have had the opportunity to join MOU and be able to play a part, however small, in Korean unification. As such, I hope that our upcoming articles will provide some insights and, most importantly, help to raise awareness.