I met some #North Koreans today!

I have a friend here who volunteers teaching English at a North Korean school.  I mentioned that I’d like to teach computers and would be willing to do some at the school he goes to.  Today he took me there so I can meet the person who runs the school.  It seems the guy in charge didn’t think it would work out, mostly his reason was because of a language barrier(my Korean is still not quite conversational) but I think that is a wrong way to view it.  I believe they could overcome that and it would be a great chance to exchange language, culture and love of tech.

My friend suggested that I talk to his students at the end of his class about Canada.  So I waited around and when his class was nearly done, he came to bring to his students.  We decided to talk more about computers and what the North Korean students knew about them from their home country.

First let me tell you about the students themselves.  They are all young people, about their late teens to early 20s at best.  There were 5 of them, 1 girl and 4 boys.  The girl and one guy were sleeping.

“I let them sleep, given the hell they have gone through.” said my friend.  I can’t say that I blame them.  I also can’t say that I could ever truly know what they have been through.  One of the boys said that if they left their town, they would be killed by law if they were caught.  So yeah, not exactly a fun place to live and it is most likely that whatever family they left have already been killed to make an example of those that have escaped.

Ok, back to computers.  One boy said that they were shown pictures of a computer, told to read some material then given a test to write on what they learned.  Not so much a computer education class but more like a ‘computer awareness’ class it seems.  Another boy said he was able to play a game on a computer once.  No, I’m sure it wasn’t anything like Skyrim but probably something closer to a 90s style game but we didn’t go into details.  The first boy said that the person who had a computer was a ‘rich person’.  I told him that I had 8 computers at my club but definitely wasn’t a rich person.

My friend had them tell me where they were from in North Korea and I used my Galaxy Tab to bring up Google Maps.  Using the Satellite View, we were able to see some pretty amazing details on streets and houses in his home city.  Sure, it wasn’t Google Street View but the details were a lot more than I had anticipated.  The first view was just the standard maps view, which showed not much at all.  I decided to switch to Satellite view and got some real definitions of city objects.  The one boy showed me the statue of Kim Il Sung in his home town, his elementary school and the place where he played football.  What struck me as being surprising was the overall design of the city.  It was like any other city you may have seen.  There were a fair number of houses and any other number of buildings you would expect to see in a mid-to-small sized city.  This lead me to immediately realize how much ‘anti-North Korean’ propaganda has been fed to us.  Sure their lives aren’t exactly rosy and they certainly don’t go on family vacations to the beach on the other side of the mountains but despite that, the city looked absolutely normal.

I do hope that I have an opportunity to help them out with the skills I have but I suspect that I really could use some better Korean any ways.  It was an enlightening experience any ways.

Author: DragonDon

Having a love of travel has lead me to move to South Korea in 2010. Moving to an Eastern culture from a Western culture is a wild experience and there is never a dull day!

59 thoughts on “I met some #North Koreans today!”

  1. That’s pretty interesting! You said it was at a North Korean school…does that mean a school that is located in South Korea, but the students are displaced North Koreans?

    1. Yes, those that have left the North and defected to the South. The school is setup to get them educated and into a college/university. It’s not a big place like any public school.

  2. Great read. It really goes to show that not everyone has a computer or internet connection. I take computer use really for granted since I am here in Vancouver. But to them, simply having one computer means your rich. Quite the eye opener.

  3. Wonderful post! When you said you were surprised at “how much ‘anti-North Korean’ propaganda has been fed to us” … that applies to how we see a lot of other cultures as well.

  4. I love your post. We have a tendency to demonise that which we do not know. I find it surprising because at the end of the Cold War we found out that East Germans and Russians were pretty much like averga Joes everywhere.

    I have a friend in South Korea. Her grandmother strapped two babies on her back and swum the border. Her husband and two older boys were due to cross later. They never did. She has not heard from her family in the North since the 1950s.

    As for computers. I can teach someone to use a computer. What I can’t do is teach someone to think. If you’ve had that independence beaten out of you, regaining it can be hard.

  5. It is true when you mention how our view is as propagandize as tthat of our so-called `enemy’. It is only when one travels beyond their national borders does this truth become known. All citizens of the world are tainted by the `politik’ of nations and the ambitions of those that lead them.

  6. I’ve alwas been interested in north korea. I’m going to Seoul south korea at the end of this month, I had recently been looking at the SHIFT program online thats meant to shift the focus from north korea’s leaders to the people. I also watched some documentaries on North Korean refugees.

    1. Sound very cool! Seoul is a very busy place! Kinda hard not to be with 24 million people living there :D The subway system is awesome. If you want any tips or places to visit let me know. I’ll be in Seoul on the last weekend of the month as well. If you aren’t busy on the 27th, maybe you could visit my community space in Uijeongbu(just north of Seoul, still subway accessible) for the language exchange that I run there in the afternoon?

      1. Oh sure if I get there when I planned to. It all depends on how soon my tax return gets to me in the mail lol. If its not here soon I won’t be there until may. My fiance is korean, i’m going to visit him, but I have nothing else to do while he’s at work and stuff :)

      2. I love parts of it ;) Being a meatatarian, it does limit my diet here but good thing they do awesome chicken here :D And the best burger place in the world is in Itaewon!

      3. I’m not much of a burger eater, but what is the place in Itaewon? I cook Korean food sometimes, figured out i’m not very good at making kimchee.. lol

      4. LOL. I did a post on Kimchi(including a recipe) maybe it will help? :)

        The place is called The Smokey Saloon. I think I shall have to do a full post on just it one day. I got a pic of the burger I normally get here https://eyagee.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/my-favourite-moments-from-2012/

        I wouldn’t recommend spending much time n Itaewon. It’s not really very ‘Korean’. It’s a tourist trap. Some cool things there but otherwise nothing terribly special.

      5. I was planning on avoiding the tourist traps xD
        Mostly going to spend time with my boyfriend and a few friends, hopefully i’ll get to meet some of his friends too. He was an ulzzang, so some of his friends are actually famous koreans ha. It’d be cool to meet them if there’s time. :)

      6. It translates to english as “best face” you know, the korean models who primarily have pale skin and big eyes, often end up becoming actors or singers.

  7. Thank you for writing this! I loved it and hope that you write more on North and South Korea. Someone with boots on the ground, talking to everyday folks goes a long ways to dispel myths and end misunderstandings.

    1. Yes, and I love dispelling baseless facts and mis-understanding. I learned quite a bit just from the short time I had with them. Hoping to do more.

  8. Did you come across any disabled people while in Korea? Being blind and living in the UK I’m interested in how disabled people live in other societies. I’ve visited China and Sri Lanka and from my admittedly limited understanding of both cultures their attitudes towards people with disabilities are not as developed as here in the UK or the USA or canada.

    1. I have seen disabled people here, but not many. The sad fact is that I am partially aware of how many mothers give up their disabled children at birth because the culture strives for perfection at the sacrifice of their own offspring. Although I can’t say that my knowledge of such things in reality has any amount of depth to it in this case. I have read and heard things. Which, in of itself, may be an indication because of such little talk.

  9. really interesting piece, it will probably take some time for all of the storeys to come out but it is good that those that you and your friend are helping have a chance, you are attempting something good, keep at it. Ps, im sharing this to my facebook page :-)


      1. The media have agendas, and the truth is rarely involved. It could be very interesting to interview them, and then again in a years time to see if the answers have changed, it will take a long time for everything to become clear to these people


      2. I don’t know if the ‘standing out’ fear will even go away but it will certainly persist in such a culture for a long, long time. Noone wants to go against the grain but everyone wants to stand out. Such a conflicted culture here and people wonder why the suicide rate is so high.

      3. There is also a high suicide rate where I live (Belfast) and the efforts the state are putting into character assignation of anyone that stands out is frankly scary. I know it does not compare to what is happening in the North there, but I doubt it started off as such a oppressive regime…….slowly the west will meet Korea in the middle if things are allowed to continue

      4. I see only two ossible outcomes.

        1/ NK will do something stupid (unlikely, men in power like to keep their power and money. Wars do not make one popular or rich when you have a poor country)

        2/ The US will create some ‘excuse’ to ‘deal’ with NK. Probably in the form of ‘OMG!! North Korea just shot a missle at one of our boats!’ (that was about to be decomissioned but this way an insurance payout happens and people make lots of money from a supposed NK attack).

      5. I think there is more to gain for the West to just let it all simmer, there are enough wars at the minute to keep the Army Strengths up, and put whatever restrictions in people they want, if that changes or North Korea is found to have Oil……then things will change, but that is a very big guess. The social control requires a uncontrollable boggy man, that is North Koreas worth to democracy.

      6. That is why I think that #2 is more likely than #1. There is no vested interest, that is obvious at least, to reel in NK. It’s all talk and show. Just the new leader flexing his power to his people. Nothing more.

  10. What a terrific opportunity. I hope you will get more like this. I am blown away by the description of the city and how it looked like any city. YOu always imagine people living in hovels and scrounging for food. I suppose there is some of that, but maybe only in some areas? I must admit, most of what I know comes from the show M*A*S*H. I look forward to learning more.

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