North Korea’s International University

A trail of thirtyish couples with coffees in hand floated on the streets this morning, like wood planks and barrels from a wreck at sea. Gradually their density increased as I approached a hulking shape looming through the fog, which turned out to be an elementary school releasing parents with free coffees as they returned to their now-childless homes.

It’s back-to-school season in America.

North and South Korea both operate on different school calendars; for them, the school year begins in spring. When I taught English in South Korea, the school year ended in December and started again in early March. North Korean schools start about a month later at the beginning of April.

The difference is probably hard to imagine for most Americans; it conflicts with our whole concept of summer as a time of vacation, of idleness and play, of long days to fill with things other than school.

But for all the difference, going back to school is pretty much the same in spirit everywhere. Kids still have that anxious, excited energy to them and haven’t yet rediscovered the boredom of regular school days. And parents still want to take photos with their darlings before leaving them.

Parents take photos with their children on the first day of school at Pyongyang Middle School No. 1 on April 2, 2012. (Photo credit AP Photo / Jon Chol Jin). 

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In the News – 150 Students to Launch Cross-DMZ Ride

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In the News –  150 Students to Launch Cross-DMZ Ride

A group of university students will launch a journey all the way across the DMZ by bicycle with a ceremony on Yeouido tomorrow.

The event, which is being supported financially by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, has been organized by two student organizations, Youth and Students Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea and Youth Future Forum.

A group of more than 150 students is expected to travel 218.38km along the DMZ, learning about national security as they take in the sights and sounds of the counties of Goseong, Inje, Yanggu, Hwacheon, Cheorwon and Yeoncheon, and Paju City.

 

Original Article 

In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

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In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.

Kim Kyeong-il, using cellphone, is president of a support group for North Korean-born students at Yonsei University in Seoul.

But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.

“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.

Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.

The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.

“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.” Continue reading

In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

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In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) — A ruling party lawmaker demanded Monday that one of South Korea’s best-known former pro-unification activists and now an opposition lawmaker offer a sincere apology again for insulting him and North Korean defectors as “traitors.”

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party hurled the insult and other abusive remarks during an impromptu meeting with a defector-turned-college student at a bar on Friday, according to a Facebook posting by the student, Baek Yo-sep.

Lim, a former pro-North Korea student activist, became widely known after making an unauthorized trip to the communist nation in 1989 and meeting with then leader Kim Il-sung, the North’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang called her the “flower of unification” at the time.

She entered parliament as a proportional candidate of the DUP in April’s general elections.

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party. (Yonhap)

Baek quoted Lim as denouncing North Korean defectors as traitors and having “no roots.” She also vilified Rep. Ha Tae-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party, who had once worked with Lim in the 1980s, as a traitor for his conversion to an anti-Pyongyang activist, Baek said.

Lim was also quoted as saying she will “kill the traitor (Ha) with my hands.”

Baek said Lim became abruptly upset following a joke he cracked to her after some Lim aides had Baek’s photos taken with Lim deleted from his phone. After Lim denied she ordered the deletion, Baek said he joked that in North Korea, doing something at will without instruction from the supreme leader carries a “death by shooting” punishment.

Baek said Lim denounced him for working with Ha to improve the North’s human rights situation.

As the traitor remarks drew strong criticism, Lim offered an apology Sunday, claiming in a statement that she was referring to only Ha as a traitor for joining the conservative ruling party, and that she never meant to describe defectors as such.

On Monday, Ha accused Lim of lying and demanded she sincerely apologize again.

“Rep. Lim holds hostility toward North Korean defectors and thinks of defectors as traitors,” Ha said. “But she said in the statement that she never called North Korean defectors traitors, but she said I am a traitor just because I joined the Saenuri Party, not because I engaged in a human rights movement helping defectors.”

But the acting chief of Lim’s party said he trusts the sincerity of her statement of apology.

“As we trust Rep. Lim’s heartfelt apology, repentance and clarification, there is no measure the party plans to take,” said Rep. Park Jie-won, the interim head of the DUP. “Rep. Lim holds respect for North Korean defectors and has an attitude of working for them.”

Park said, however, the party will instruct lawmakers to be more careful about what they say.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

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In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

North Korea detains university students over a failed rocket launch.

North Korean students work on their computers at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, April 11, 2012.

Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.

North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a “provocative” move.

New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.

Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.

“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Continue reading

In the News – N.Korean Dynasty’s Authority Challenged

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In the News – N.Korean Dynasty’s Authority Challenged

Major structures built to promote the personality cult of North Korea’s Kim dynasty have been damaged as isolated pockets of resistance begin to grow, according to reports. A statue of Kim Jong-suk, former leader Kim Jong-il’s mother, in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province was damaged in October and a monument in Pyongyang was destroyed in April last year.

Based on information from domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, Saenuri Party lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said on Sunday, “The Kim Jong-un regime has witnessed several events challenging the authority of regime founder Kim Il-sung and his family.” Continue reading

“Why are you here?”: The Quintessential Question about North Korean Human Rights

The Interns this summer for the Ministry of Unification, especially the foreigners, were always met with some intrigue as to how we learned about the issue of North Korean Human Rights, Unification of the Korean Peninsula, and why we decided to get involved. Since many of us had learned about the issue through our Korean friends or student organizations back in the states, I had not realized what a unique position we were in as American ambassadors on the topic due to the specificity of the issue. However, to other interns and me, it hadn’t seemed like such a niche topic at all. Rather, it was something that was connected to American history and was a general area of interest for those committed to protecting human rights and liberties. I had only formally learned about North Korea in the context of it being a national security threat to America, but it also seemed to be, equal to Africa and other regions that are the center of charity and social entrepreneurship against poverty and starvation, an area that deserved attention for the low living standards of its citizens. Continue reading