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What It’s Like to Teach in North Korea by Suki Kim (Full Transcript)

Full text of What It’s Like to Teach in North Korea by Suki Kim at TED Talks…

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TRANSCRIPT: 

In 2011, during the final six months of Kim Jong-Il’s life, I lived undercover in North Korea.

I was born and raised in South Korea, their enemy. I live in America, their other enemy.

Since 2002, I had visited North Korea a few times. And I had come to realize that to write about it with any meaning, or to understand the place beyond the regime’s propaganda, the only option was total immersion. So I posed as a teacher and a missionary at an all-male university in Pyongyang.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology was founded by Evangelical Christians who cooperate with the regime to educate the sons of the North Korean elite, without proselytizing, which is a capital crime there. The students were 270 young men, expected to be the future leaders of the most isolated and brutal dictatorship in existence. When I arrived, they became my students.

2011 was a special year, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s original Great Leader, Kim Il-Sung. To celebrate the occasion, the regime shut down all universities, and sent students off to the fields to build the DPRK’s much-heralded ideal as the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation. My students were the only ones spared from that fate.

North Korea is a gulag posing as a nation. Everything there is about the Great Leader. Every book, every newspaper article, every song, every TV program — there is just one subject. The flowers are named after him, the mountains are carved with his slogans. Every citizen wears the badge of the Great Leader at all times. Even their calendar system begins with the birth of Kim Il-Sung.

The school was a heavily guarded prison, posing as a campus. Teachers could only leave on group outings accompanied by an official minder. Even then, our trips were limited to sanctioned national monuments celebrating the Great Leader. The students were not allowed to leave the campus, or communicate with their parents. Their days were meticulously mapped out, and any free time they had was devoted to honoring their Great Leader. Lesson plans had to meet the approval of North Korean staff, every class was recorded and reported on, every room was bugged, and every conversation, overheard. Every blank space was covered with the portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, like everywhere else in North Korea.

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