Teaching Gentleman in Non-Gentle Territory

Suki Kim was born in South Korea and lived in America. As a journalist, she went to 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,” said Kim. Therefore, Kim packed up and headed there under the guise of a teacher and missionary.

            Kim taught at one of the prestigious all-boys schools. “The school was a heavily guarded prison, posing as a campus,” states Kim. She talks about how everything there is dedicated to their leader. The school was regulated that all of the lesson plans had to be preapproved and the class was recorded. There was no free time like we’d get in the United States, rather Kim says the extra time was set for honoring the leader. The students had no outside contact, their only friend was Kim. Who in reality was a threat to their own country.

            Within a few minutes, Kim reveals some work she would have the boys do. Starting off with truth or a lie, students had to write a statement on the board and everyone would guess what it was.            She reveals the sense of isolation in North Korea by sharing how a boy wrote how he traveled to China. “Virtually no North Korean is allowed to leave the country. Even traveling within their own country requires a travel pass,” states Kim.

            One of the most compelling parts of Kim’s story was the weekly letter to someone the students had to write. She knew the letters would end up going nowhere, yet she was hopeful these boys would open up. Something great ended up happening within those letters. Kim says how they didn’t mention their leader. Rather talked about things other people their age would, they were worried about their future.

            After spending months with these men, all day. From eating lunch with them to making them nervous over the word girl.  “I often called them gentlemen, which made them giggle,” Kim states which shows the connection grew.

            Yet, with the compelling came another aspect of Kim’s time there, despair. She often wondered if telling them of the truth of their country was worth it. She was teaching kids majoring in computer science yet didn’t know social media.

            Even with all these feelings, Kim knew they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. After coming over to be an immersive journalist, Kim really created a connection with the boys. She doesn’t want them to start a “revolution” rather live their life as high military men. In North Korea, that’s the safest bet.

            Patricia Wabick watched this Ted Talk and revealed her newfound respect for immersive journalists. “You always hear about journalists going to war-torn cities yet never about someone doing good for those citizens. Her story touched me.” Wabick states. Furthermore, her husband Dave Wabick states “what touched me most the fact that Kim knows these students deserve more, however, the best option for them is not knowing at all.” Kim ends with what she would write to her students today, ending “All I see there is darkness. But it’s your home, so I cannot hate it. And I hope instead that you … will one day help make it beautiful.”

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