“In late May, I had the unique opportunity to participate in a five-day research trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), likely the most closed-off nation in the modern world, with 14 of my fellow graduate students from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA).
Accompanied by Professor Elisabeth Lindenmayer, Director of the United Nation Studies Program at SIPA, the team and I traversed the country from Pyongyang to Wonsan on the southeastern coast, visiting several historic monuments, museums, universities and even an amusement park. While I enjoyed the sight-seeing, the best experience, by far, had to be playing billiards in Wonsan with our interpreter. Relaxing on a Friday night, sharing stories over a few bottles of beer and poking fun at each other for shots missed demonstrated how small a world it is after all.
Unfortunately, not all of my experiences were as enjoyable. Ambling through the orchestrated tourist attractions of North Korea, the team and I were spoon-fed propaganda underscoring the proud North Korean achievements of decades past. Yet while North Korea remembers, the rest of the world forgets. The rest of the world is in 2012, and North Korea remains in 1994 or earlier. The most-telling example had to be in the capital city of Pyongyang, where the decades-old infrastructure is literally falling apart. The country is in dire need of development.
Nevertheless, I most certainly recommend traveling to North Korea if you are interested. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly offer my travel tips.”