On Tuesday, students, professors, and United Nations officials crowded the 15th floor of the International Affairs building in order to listen to a panel speak about SIPA’s May 2012 trip to North Korea, the first
and last trip of its kind at Columbia. East Asian aficionado Roberta Barnett retells their harrowing tale.
The panel, composed mainly of the fifteen students and professors Charles K. Armstrong and Jeong-Ho Roh, was moderated by trip coordinator Dr. Elisabeth Lindenmayer, director of SIPA’s United Nations Studies program.
The seven-day trip was the brainchild of SIPA student Taeyoung Kim, who proposed the idea to Dr. Lindenmayer last year. Lindenmayer used her connections within the UN to gain a formal invitation to North Korea. Students then applied to be part of the team that visited in the spring. The acceptees were a diverse group, including American and South Korean citizens. Over the course of the trip, the group toured Pyongyang schools, drove through the countryside, and even visited an amusement park.
“There are over 140 people here, and over 190 outside on the waitlist. This shows just how important North Korea is to us, East Asia, and the rest of the world,” began Kim. He went on to cite the power of ideology and the dire economic situation in North Korea as his most salient observations. For example, when purchasing items in a store near the southern border, there was no way to get change back. He either had to purchase more items or give up his change.