In August we concluded our 2nd Kim Chol Ju University Program in Pyongyang, offering the opportunity for overseas participants to spend a month studying Korean at a real DPRK University. Fiona, who hails from Bristol in the United Kingdom, joined us for this program and was incredibly enthusiastic to provide us a testimonial of her experience answering some questions about it!
1) What inspired you to study in North Korea?
I’ve been interested in the Korean language for quite some time but I’ve never quite had the motivation to follow through. Whilst I’ve always wanted to go to South Korea, I’ve wanted to go to the DPRK more. There’s so much negative spin of the DPRK in the media, but I just knew much of it was false and exaggerated, so it became my goal to experience it for myself. And why not study at a month at a DPRKorean university whilst I was at it.
2) How was your experience at Kim Chol Ju University?
It was unforgettable. I won’t forget the intense days of memorising vocab; the whir of hand fans 선풍기! and aircon on the hot sticky days; and the smiles and laughter of our teacher. It was an exercise in self discipline and self motivation that I think I needed. We had 3 hours of class every day and honestly, I don’t even have half as much contact hours at my own university in London. It was a genuine schooling experience.
3) Do you feel you learnt a great deal from the program?
I learned so much. An impossible amount that I didn’t think I would have been able to achieve otherwise. Reading, writing, listening, vocab, grammar, sentence structures—we did it all. And we were tested on it all too! (If I had studied harder, I probably would have learned even more, but hey.)
4) Did the program change your perceptions of North Korea?
It enabled me to gain a deeper appreciation for DPRKorean history and culture. I learned so much about the history, the politics, the leaders, the people. And I’m still learning (and unlearning)!
It really proved how much of what you see and hear about the DPRK in media is unfairly misleading and misrepresentative. There is so much bias against the DPRK, particularly from the West, but the program enables you to challenge those biases from the get go— simply by being in the country and interacting with local people.
From the natural landscape to the architecture, the DPRK was/is even more beautiful than I had imagined. The monuments are even more incredible up close and you see the true skill and mastery of the workers who built them. There’s so much more to appreciate once you learn about the historical context eg the meaning behind certain elements of construction / architecture.
5) Did you feel safe in the DPRK?
Honestly I felt just as safe in the DPRK as I do living in London, England, if not more so. The Korean peoples were consistently welcoming and friendly and accommodating, especially our guides who really made my experience special.
6) What was your favourite extra-circular activity?
I don’t know if I have a favourite. It was a real treat being able to attend the opera, to experience the magic of it all. The walks during the evenings were a real highlight too, as we got to see Pyongyang in a whole different light. The mass games were an amazing spectacle too — you’re left gaping in awe and admiration for all the performers. I felt really privileged to do many of the activities that we did.
7) Would you recommend your experience to others?
I would recommend everyone drop what they’re doing and organise a trip to the DPRK. Well, everyone who is open minded and respectful of others’ cultures and experiences. My month of study in the DPRK is one that I hold close to my heart and will talk about for years to come; I know it’s the same for those on the tour with me and for those who do the tour in the future.
The program was extremely well organised and curated, with just enough flexibility to allow us to do extra little things and experience additional nuggets of life in the DPRK. Our Visit North Korea guide and our Korean guides were the most amazing people who always went the extra mile for us.
There’s really no experience quite like this one—in the best of ways — and no better company than Visit North Korea to go with.