Journalist Describes What It Was Like Teaching English In North Korea

Here is an interesting interview with a journalist who worked for six months as an English teacher in North Korea:

In 2011, American journalist Suki Kim secured a job teaching English at an all-male university in North Korea. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology had just 270 students, all of whom were the sons of North Korean elites.

Kim spent six months at the college, recording notes for what would become her 2014 book, Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite.

Last week, after the news that North Korea had conducted yet another missile test, I reached out to Kim by phone. Her perspective is valuable and rare; few Americans have spent much time on the ground there. I wanted to know what daily life was like for average citizens of North Korea, the world’s most reclusive country.

“The level of fear is unimaginable,” she told me. “It’s possible to be both happy and terrified all at once, and I think that’s the case for many North Koreans.”  []

Here is a small snippet from the interview:

Sean Illing

If the Kim Jong Un regime were to collapse tomorrow, and North Koreans were suddenly liberated, how do you think they would react?

Suki Kim

I feel like they would probably be relieved about the system. But I also think they’d find something else to believe in absolutely, some kind of faith that requires total fidelity. There’s a deeper layer of psychological trauma here that is difficult to grasp. I think they’re conditioned to follow whoever is in power, whoever is appointed the leader.

We’ve now had three generations of tyrannical rule and abuse, and people who have lived under this their entire life have never thought for themselves. How do you fully account for that kind of damage? My suspicion is that they’d blindly follow whoever would ascend to power. I hate to say it, but the soil is ripe for future dictatorships.

You can read the whole interview at the link.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. Hmm … I am really tempted to question how authoritative this lady’s opinion really is …

    Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (or PUST) is a very unique place in North Korea. It’s a school run mostly by foreigners (to include many Americans). It is out in the countryside. I’m quite certain you don’t get to come and go as you please and while you have North Korean students in your class, there is no way they are allowed to interact freely with the foreign instructors as there are officers from the Ministry of State Security keeping an eye on everyone and everything. This lady was there for six months … and probably other than the day she got there until the day she left … she never saw anything but the insides of this school. Kind of like how tourists are only shown what North Korea wants them to see and are confined to the Ryugyong Hotel on the island in the Daedong River flowing through Pyongyang … except she did that for six months instead of only one or two weeks. But she took notes during those six months and wrote a book … and now she’s an expert on life in North Korea … ?

  2. Ugg … I should have said Yanggakdo International Hotel. The Ryugyong Hotel is not on the river island and it’s not even operational yet.

  3. Vox is usually wrong. Then again, a large number of people around the world fall for cults of personality because they have no other religion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *