Studying in North Korea

Is it possible? Would you ever want to?

North Korea is quite the divisive nation, to put it mildly. They have separated themselves from the vast majority of the world, in a variety of ways, including limiting the people who can move into and from the country. Which then raises the question: is it possible to study in North Korea? And what would it take? Is it even worth the effort? Let’s see.

Well we can answer the first question quickly: sort of.

Although yes, it is possible to study in North Korea, very few are granted entry. Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, for example, only has around 90 foreign students at a time- mostly from China.

University life there is unique, as you may expect. Students are closely monitored, especially in regards to their relationships, while the facilities can often be bare- there are no showers and students bathe together.

Although there is a distaste for Western society and government in particular, it seems the vast majority of North Koreans still have a fondness for Western people and culture and even a curiosity for the differences.

Even those foreign students that do attend will have existing ties with North Korea in some fashion. Alessandro Ford (the first Westerner to study there) was able to attend as his father, Glyn, was a member of the European Parliament and had been on diplomatic trips to Pyongyang. Another well-known attendee is Alek Sigley, the first Australian to study in North Korea: he managed to attend as he ran a tour service to the country.

Despite their relationships with North Korea, they were still only granted short stays. Ford studied for five months, while Sigley only managed to study for around six weeks.

So if you are looking for a long-term course, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

However, if you only to want to experience North Korea for a short time, and perhaps pick up some Korean at the same time, there does exist services that allow for short education tours of a few weeks. One such is Juche Travel Services (JTS) that allows people of any age or nationality to study the Korean language at Kim Il-sung University.

Participants stay in the university dorms and study Korean for four hours a day. Students will also go on sightseeing tours, go swimming, dancing and get to play football. They also have the opportunity to meet local people, though those met are carefully chosen for this role. For twenty-two nights, this service costs around $2,300USD.

These tours can offer a good opportunity to see North Korea, become accustomed to the culture and get to know the people.

So in a way, North Korea can be quite the illuminating place for an international education. For the vast majority of us though, that education will be somewhat limited to a few weeks of studying Korean. Considering how political and odd North Korea can be though, a few weeks is perhaps all you will need.