The Changgwang Kindergarten is North Korea’s premier pre-school for children, perhaps the most elite within the country. Located in Pyongyang near the Russian Embassy, the kindergarten is known for its robust training children into musical and artistic pathways. It is claimed to be representative of all similar institutions within the country. It may be visited upon request, however, it is guaranteed to provide an unconventional experience. It may stand out for a variety of reasons.
The Changgwang Kindergarten is a large, colorful and seemingly idealistic building in the light of children. Outside there is a play area on an artificial lawn. Inside, the building is filled with decorated walls of famous cartoon characters, including disney, rooms stacked full of toys and of course the default political messaging found within the DPRK, including a portrait of the two former Kims surrounded by children. Kim Jong il is said to have opened the establishment in the 1982 out of a love for the country’s children.
What do visitors get to see and do here? To say the least, any visit is extensively well organized in anticipation of the visitor. Some children are typically sent out to play as the visitors arrive, saying “Hello” in Korean (Anyeonghasimnikka!) repeatedly. The visitors are then shown inside by the director of the institution, who will take them around a number of classrooms to see the children “in action”. This includes classes where they are identifying and naming animals, classes where they are singing, an art room (where the children will always give the visitor something they made as pre-prepared gift), a giant play room with interactive games (where the children will invite the visitors to join in) and last but not least, a formal musical performance staged by the children. In each instance, children in the given area will run at the visitors, grab by the arms and lead them to where they are supposed to be.
The accumulation of this may produce mixed feelings for the visitors. There is a sense the experience may be somewhat staged, or some may have concerns about how the children are being routinely trained into given courses of action. As a result, it is not a recommended destination for those more sensitive. Although the aim of such is to appear cute whilst also attempting to impress audiences at the achievements of the DPRK educational system and what it delivers for young people, there are likely to be other impressions instead. Certainly, the establishment is one of a kind. It is surreal, bizarre and perhaps too good to be true.