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Lafayette Students Talk About Life in North Korea

College was first in the nation to offer a study-abroad program in the Asian country.

For college students, studies abroad are usually limited to semesters in England and France.

For 17 students, part of their summer was spent participating in a for-credit study abroad program --  in China, North Korea and South Korea.

Professors and students who took the tour from July 30 to Aug. 15 talked about their experiences during a session for their course, Interconnections in Northeast Asia, at the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights Friday afternoon.

The big question: Why North Korea?

As Paul Barclay, an associate professor of history who went on the trip, stated: North Korea is known for famine, human rights violations and nuclear proliferation.

"We wanted to study North Korea as a region with South Korea and China," said Seo-Hyun Park, assistant professor of government and law, who also went on the trip. "We wanted to find other ways to study North Korea that what we just hear on the news."

Lafayette is the first American college or university to offer a for-credit study abroad program in North Korea. The program was organized in conjunction with the Pyongyang Project, a nonprofit organization based in Beijing.

Traveling to North Korea is not like heading to Disneyworld.

Park said that students were briefed by the State Department since the country, known for its political and economic instability, is on a list of those Americans should stay away from, including Cuba, Egypt, Libya and Haiti.

"Travel by U.S. citizens is not routine," she said. "You can be subject to long-term arrest and detention."

What also makes it rough is that Americans, due to the Korean War, are not really welcomed.

All three countries have museums dedicated to the war and also at least seem to pin the blame on the region's struggles because of American intervention, especially North Korea.

The students, though, got to see a much different kind of country.
With photos of their trip flashing on the screen behind them, students showed pictures of climbing the Great Wall of China, going near the Forbidden City, meeting students from Peking University, taking an overnight train trip from Beijing, boating the Yalu River, attending a gymnastics festival and playing beach volleyball with the North Koreans.

Christina Cucinotta, Class of 2014, said that she expected security to be tighter. But she found security guards on a customs check more interested about her pictures of climbing the Great Wall.

Brendan Fahey, Class of 2013, talked about taking a swim and having a picnic with a North Korean police officer.

Melissa Drennan, Class of 2012, said, though, that the volleyball game on Nampo Beach was really the ice breaker.

"I thought these people were trained to hate us," she said. "But they were excited to see us play. They cheered us on. It was really a great experience."

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