Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Study Aboard in North Korea

Pack a suitcase for Pyongyang. Study Korean in Kaesong. North Korea may be an unlikely destination for study abroad, but its border has been breached. The P'yongyang Project, a Beijing-based nonprofit organization, has been organizing study tours, or “delegations,” to North Korea since 2009, and this summer Lafayette College, in Pennsylvania, plans to become the first American university to offer a credit-bearing study abroad program above the 38th parallel.

"This is an amazing opportunity for Lafayette College and, frankly, for Americans to get into parts of the world that many people think are completely blocked off," says Allison Alexy, an assistant professor of anthropology and Japan expert who will co-lead the program. "Part of the point of this program is that nothing and no one and no culture is nearly as isolated as we might think it is, and it seems this might be a great way to demonstrate that point experientially."

The 2.5-week program, organized by the P'yongyang Project, will focus on intersections between the cultures of China, North Korea and South Korea. Students will split their time between the three countries, spending five days in North Korea, traveling to Pyongyang, the capital; Nampo, on the western coast; and Kaesong, near the demilitarized zone. Per the itinerary, planned excursions and activities within North Korea include visiting Kim II Sung’s mausoleum, a Korean history museum and a "people’s commune"; meeting with students at Kim II Sung University and Kim Ch’aek Science and Technology University; attending the famous Arirang Mass Games, watching a performance of the Pyongyang Circus, and riding the rides (imported from Italy) at the Pyongyang Amusement Park. Students will tour the DMZ from the North with a Korean People’s Army guide, and will also have the opportunity, later in the program, to visit the DMZ from the South Korea side.

"We’ve organized the program so it’s really about appreciating and acknowledging the different cultures in Northeast Asia, not including Japan, unfortunately, but China, North Korea, and South Korea, and also paying attention to the ways that different cultures are connected," Alexy says.